“You can’t pour from an empty cup.”
You can actually get that printed on a coffee mug— the vessel for the caffeine that is making it possible to get bread into the toaster and the other demands of the morning imaginable. We might want it on a coffee mug because its true. We have only so much, and there’s a point at which giving, serving, doing, just showing up for your life, becomes hollowing yourself out, honeycombing yourself looking for more to carry out of the mine. We need reminders that nudge us to find ways and places to be filled again. But the idea that you can’t pour from an empty cup, that you can’t give what you don’t have, is also an idea we need to wrestle with a little bit.
The idea of a Christian Sabbath emerged during a period of Think about the way we make sense of time. Years, seasons, months, sure. But the units of time that really matter most of our lives are days, and days off, weeks and week-ends. Time working, and time set aside from work that lets us rest so that when the week starts again, we have something in the tank. We’re either working, or we’re in pauses getting ready to work again—whatever the actual organization of your time looks like. So, whatever we receive in rest is part of a transaction, it has a purpose. The point of filling the cup is so that we can pour from it; The day, the week, the work, the pouring is what’s its all for; its what we’re for.
And that makes it difficult for us to approach the kind Sabbath
Isaiah talks about.
It doesn’t make it easier that the whole idea of Sabbath wasn’t really a part of Christian life from the time Christianity became distinct from Judaism until about 400 years ago—the very beginnings of the process of industrialization and a radical transformation in the way people’s labor was ordered. We were beginning to imagine nature as regular and mechanical, and there was an impulse to rationalize the week away from the Church calendar’s crazy quilt of festivals and toward a fixed and predictable six days of work and one day of rest. So we got Sunday as a day off with rules. And while there was a sense of having recovered a way of ordering time given by God to Israel, the most important piece was lost when sabbath observance got hitched to our modern way of thinking about work and time: God’s people Israel labored toward the Sabbath. Sabbath was the point of life.
Listen to the way Isaiah speaks for God:
if you call the sabbath a delight
and the holy day of the Lord honorable;
if you honor it, not going your own ways,
serving your own interests, or pursuing your own affairs;
then you shall take delight in the Lord,
and I will make you ride upon the heights of the earth.
If you call the sabbath a delight. It isn’t pragmatic. It isn’t a realistic check-in with what we need to keep going. It isn’t a few deep breaths of air so we can dive again. Sabbath was given as the height and fullness of life. Do no work, says the command. Which means you didn’t have to cook, or fix anything, or build anything. You were released from that entirely to play with your kids, pray, talk, be together. Its the closest we get to the ravens and the lilies the Jesus talks about. Delighting. Delight has no purpose or end beyond itself, it doesn’t make anything, or add to anything measurable.
The theologian Jürgen Moltmann writes about how we can miss something essential when we read the creation story through the lens of our ideas about work and human value. When we think of the beginning as God working for six days, and then resting from that work—we’re focused on the active, speaking, moving, fashioning part as the important part. When we do that, that reinforces how we tend to see ourselves—-as important, imaging the creating God, when we’re creating.
But Moltmann says that we have it backwards. God spoke and made and blessed and was the whole time moving toward the day of delight, and on that day rested in joy over what now was—this world God was now present in. God blessed the seventh day and hallowed it. That is Sabbath.
Sabbath, he writes, “is not a day of rest following six working days. On the contrary: the whole work of creation was performed for the sake of sabbath…it was for the sake of this feast day of the eternal God that heaven and earth were created.” Sabbath rest is also a kind of noticing—noticing the way the blessedness of creation goes on unfolding, noticing how we are held within it. Moltmann writes that we “sanctify the day though [our] joy in existence as God’s creatures.”
We are told to hallow time with joy. So my question for you, my question for myself is: what do we do that is simply for the sake of delighting in the grace of this now? We’re almost always making something, building something, serving [our] own interests, pursuing [our] own affairs. Or, we’re numbing ourselves from the feeling that we should be making or building something. And we have so many way of doing that. Sabbath, wherever it happens for you, is actual peace with delight before God. Where is that place? Claim it, as a gift. And if you don’t, this is charge and permission to find it.