A Reflection on the Art of Sabbath

Most great art takes into consideration concepts like symmetry, rhythm and balance. Even when art breaks such rules, it is still responding to their eminence. The older I get and the longer I do ministry, the more I think of it as art. Maybe life itself is art, which can be understood and appreciated through an aesthetic lens as much as a moral one. In other words, a righteous life is not just about being right in what we do, but being beautiful. The life of Jesus had things like symmetry and rhythm in abundance. And it was not just a good life, it was a beautiful life. Compelling, enthralling and fascinating. I find that I am as interested in the life and words of Jesus as I have ever been. I just can not seem to tire of this incarnate life, which was certainly more, and yet not less than a work of art.

If we think of our lives like that, as something to be witnessed and appreciated, then we start to ask new questions. Am I flourishing? Is there vitality in all I do? Do the people around me find my way of life compelling, interesting or beautiful?

A good bit has been said and written about the importance of Sabbath for example. The remembrance of the Sabbath is itself a kind of aesthetic rule for how life should be lived. A great life that does not stop or that has no rhythm is not compelling. No matter what it produces.

Sabbath is not just for rest it is for remembering. Remembering that God made the world and you didn’t. That the mission we do is actually his mission and he will see it through to the end. Whether we falter or not. That we are loved, in spite of internal and external evidence to the contrary. That he is our father, savior and friend, and that nothing can change that. That one day he will remake the world just as he is remaking you right now. Sabbath is a day for worship, and for returning. We need it to be there every seven days. It is this kind of disciplined practice that defines the boundaries of our art and the canvas for the painting which is our lives.

As much as I resist high church platitudes and lifeless rituals, I have to admit they get this right. I have said it before, the worst thing a nominal christian can do is go to church every Sunday, but it may be one of the best things a missionary can do. Once a week to be in the presence of the people of God, to sing with one voice, to share the elements of the Lord’s supper and to remember what matters. I might remind you that it is the rhythm itself, that is redemptive, not the quality of the music or the relevance of the preaching. Obviously, if you can find a place to take communion that has all of those elements, all the better. But I think just being in the same space as an act of order in the chaos of our missional lives, offers us both bounty and beauty that transcends the consumables of Sunday morning.

“…on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom…”

There was no life, that was lived more freely or more artfully than Jesus’, yet he allowed this weekly practice to shape it. Maybe we should too.

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