"Today is God's gift to you; what you do with it is your gift to God."
We have spent considerable time exploring the mission God has given us to be a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. Most recently, in this journey, we studied sacred space and learned fundamentally that we experience the holy in such space with the aim of spreading the holy beyond and throughout the world. In our next two sessions, we will study sacred time - what makes certain time sacred and how we experience it as such. We will consider how we can infuse more of the regular time of our lives with holiness - inspired, instructed, and refreshed through our experience of sacred time.
One could say that when the world is made sacred and all the days are made sacred, we will have helped bring about the day when “God shall be One, and God’s Name shall be One.”
What are the sacred times? What do we learn from them? And how can experience of them make one more holy and enabled to expand the holy into regular time? These are the fundamental questions we’ll explore in these sessions.
Before we begin, and as a part of this introduction, I want to speak a bit about some fundamental features of sacred time as taught by the great early 20th century sage and philosopher, Franz Rosenzweig, who wrote on liturgical time, in his masterwork, The Star of Redemption.
Rosenzweig teaches fundamentally that through sacred time, time is stopped, bent, and formed in a spiral that travels unceasingly toward the Divine goal of redemptive fulfillment. In secular time, this is not the case. There are no Divine interruptions, with little purposeful, regular return to earlier time or experience of future time. Rather, in its coldest sense, it’s one moment after another, that is, time that appears inexorably and ordinarily to move to death.
Sacred time, in contrast, puts us in the experience and re-experience of the Divine blessings of creation, revelation, and redemption - all with a big purpose. Essentially, we come to understand and live in the eternal through living in sacred time, which produces “glimmering pictures onto heaven.”
First, in looking to the past and focusing on creation, we learn and know that God was and is the cause of miracles. We see this in the creation of the world, the creation of each of us, the possibility of continuing creation, and, mostly, the prediction of further miracles, especially the miracle of relationship with, and revelation from, God. A new reality was and is created by creation.
In the experience of revelation, we understand, among other things, a new and powerful answer to death. Revelation begins to respond to death with the overwhelming sense of the present moment with God that is filled with love. In this on-going present, God calls us into an enduring relationship, one of love - love of God for us and love of us for God. This is the principal feature of our creation - this powerful presence and present moments in which the miracle of this relationship and this love will ultimately result in a victory over death. Revelation achieves this by pointing and leading our way to redemption.
In redemption, we move from present to future. Redemption occurs through this new Divine-intended relationship involving God, us, and others in the world, which itself is a product of the love that naturally overflows through the love God gives each of us. This flow of love drives us, as Rosenzweig’s friend, Martin Buber, teaches, to an I-Thou manner of living. Love, thus extended outward, has a redeeming effect on the world and, importantly, redeems us now and forever.
As Rosenzweig says so profoundly, the liturgy of the festivals of sacred time is the “reflector, which focuses the sunbeams of eternity in the small circle of the year.” So, through our sacred experiences in the year that both correspond to realities of the seasons and bring back memories of our history with God and their lessons, we transcend through the past, present, and future of ordinary time to find life with God forever. We’ll understand this better as we look at each of the festivals in greater detail.
First, today, we’ll look at the common features of sacred time. Also, we’ll look at the Sabbath specifically - its elements and purposes.
In the next session, we’ll continue our look at the sabbatical idea in the
sacred time of the sabbatical and jubilee years and study those sacred times
that teach the meaning and purpose of creation, revelation, and redemption. We’ll consider and discuss what makes those experiences
so vital to our mission and its work.
Q1. What comes to your mind when you think of sacred time? What has it been for you in your own experience? What are your memories of it? What are your expectations of it?
I-XVI. There are sixteen mitzvot
prohibiting work and commanding rest on eight holy days, including the Sabbath.
We’ll talk about these holy days individually, but now I
want to focus on the idea of refraining from work and experiencing rest on
them. Let’s read the ones regarding the Sabbath, just to see the
language in the Bible.
III. Read Exodus 20:10 and Exodus 34:21
Exodus 20: 10 but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. Do not do any work on it—not you, your sons or daughters, your male or female servants, your animals, or the immigrant who is living with you.
Exodus 34: 21 You should do your work for six days, but on the seventh day you should rest. Even during plowing or harvest time you should rest.
These are just a few of the many mitzvot that relate to the broad requirements of sacred time.
A. Why should we refrain from work and rest during sacred time?
First, we know that God worked for six days and rested on the Sabbath. So, we emulate God when we do so. We, also, acknowledge and support God’s sovereignty when we do so. Just as the Sovereign who created the world rested on the seventh day, we who are, at God’s service, sovereign of our lives, rest on the seventh day.
Second, we create time for other important activity during sacred time by removing the secular enterprise of work (which can be engulfing) from the agenda during such time, and sanctifying and declaring the time as holy.
(Such activity would include, as we’ll discuss in a moment, rest. This activity also includes making special offerings to God, involving worship, meditation, reflection, and other similar uses of time. It also includes re-charging, studying, and re-orientation to God’s ways and restoring ourselves to those ways, especially those featured on such holy days.)
B. What does the Bible mean by work? What are we to avoid?
(Furthering the everyday of the
material. Business. Working at one’s
occupation or profession. In the oral law, then the Mishnah, this included such
things, common to the work of that day, as sowing, planting, reaping, binding,
threshing, spinning, weaving, slaughtering, building, demolishing, etc. What
would or should such activity include in our own time?
C. Isn’t rest a certain activity that, in part, substitutes for work in sacred time? What is rest?
(Is it the avoidance of the everyday grind? Avoidance of the possibility of being caught up fully or even chained to the material world? A time purely for the soul, in which it’s protected from the demands of the material? Could it be a vacation from the tensions of everyday life? A touch of the eternal? A time in which all can equally touch the special of what’s eternal? A time of openness to the other special splendors and intentions of sacred time?
Can we agree, specifically, it begins with simple physical rest? The body should rest and be restored from the fatigue of regular work. The mind should rest from the demands of regular work and material progress and be turned to the contemplation of advancing our spiritual progress. The soul should rest and be free from the pulls and tensions of the everyday and instead be open purely to formal encounter with God.
We are comforted during rest. We
are free of the exertion of other days and their troubles. We are entitled to
be full of relaxation and tranquility of body, mind, and spirit. We feel
shalom, an inner sense of peace. At bottom, we fill the vacuum created by avoiding
work in sacred time by filling it with serenity.)
D. How do we avoid work and engage in rest during sacred time?
(Possible examples of activities of rest: time in our places of worship. Time with family and friends. Time devoted to our loved ones. Time in study and worship and offerings. Naps. A focus on returning to regular time in better ways to live more in accord with God’s expectations.
In addition to the discussion above, a fundamental point about why we should make this rest important is this: the mitzvot of sacred time are instructive to our living out our mission of being a kingdom of priests and a holy nation, which is important to God. Putting the material aside on a periodic basis gives us the time, energy, guidance, and focus to prepare for the work of that mission. We learn about and experience the sacred in sacred time. This readies and enables us for going back into regular time with a strengthened capacity to extend the sacred into that time.)
Further, we are specifically instructed to bring
offerings and rejoice in sacred time. To get a flavor of these expectations for
the holidays generally, let’s
read the following mitzvot.
IV. Read Leviticus
23:8; Deuteronomy 16:14
Leviticus 23: 8 You will offer food gifts to the Lord for seven days. The seventh day will be a holy occasion; you must not do any job-related work.
Deuteronomy 16: 14 Celebrate your festival: you, your sons, your daughters, your male and female servants, the Levites, the immigrants, the orphans, and the widows who live in your cities.
These mitzvot speak to additional offerings that are to be made in sacred time as well as the requirement - generally - to rejoice in sacred time.
A. Why might we be asked to bring additional offerings during sacred time?
(Recall our discussion of offerings. We don’t see them any longer as animals and grains to be put up on the altar. But we do see them as prayer, meditation, devotion, dedicating resources that support sacred enterprise, and drawing closer to God. In that light, it seems entirely right that we would bring special offerings on the occasion of sacred days.
We come to sacred space on holy days full of awe, respect, and gratitude for the meaning and purposes of these times. These days speak of the history, culture, lessons, and miracles from which our Way of life was born. Sacred time gives these experiences and miracles a depth and texture through which we can better understand their meaning and continuing purpose in our lives.
Thus, on these holy days, we
particularly seek to be near God, to sense the Divine holiness, so that we
might be better able to live as God expects in the ordinary days of our lives.
Through these additional offerings, we both support the work of sacred
enterprise and strengthen the relationships and commitments that enrich our
lives with the lessons sacred time conveys. Chinuch: these offerings help us “to take to heart the greatness of the day and its
sanctity, and the miracles and the acts of kindness that the Almighty, blessed
be He, bestowed upon us at that time.”
B. Why are we commanded (with a particular exception) to rejoice on sacred days, including the sounding of trumpets?
(We want to be open to the dramatic power of the sacred and readier to grasp its meaning. We are also to rejoice in its beauty and glory. Sometimes this joy may involve singing, dancing, and celebrating. Sometimes there are special foods.
But, in all cases, we are to feel spiritual uplift from the experience of sacred time, and, in this rejoicing, the peace, happiness, and enduring wholeness that God intends for us by blessing us with such time in our lives. Joyful on such days, we are inclined to spread the meaning and purpose of such time to all time.)
V. Read Exodus 20:8
Exodus 20: 8 Remember the Sabbath day and treat it as holy.
commanded to remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Recall at the beginning
of Vayikra when God tells Moses to tell the people, “Be holy because I, the Lord your God, am holy.” The next verse, Leviticus 19:3, says, “you must observe my Sabbaths. I am the Lord your God.”
This commands us to remember the sabbath day and to keep it holy. Do you have further reflections on the special sacred nature of this day and its purpose?
(It is a time in which we principally become acquainted with Divine holiness and its importance to us. We are to emulate God in holiness. And we do so, first, in seeing ourselves as co-creators with God in the world, who refrain from work and rest on the seventh day.
God interrupts the natural flow of time, separates the seventh day from the others and ceases work. So should we. We can all share in these sacred moments each week. And, in them, free of our burdens and the toil of our work, we live for a time in an eternal realm, near God, in peace.
There we can be healed, inspired, and instructed in holiness and God’s ways. As Rosenzweig says, the Sabbath provides a “steady flow” of peace through which “whirlpools of the soul are created.”
In a sense, God suspends the secular clock each seventh day, makes time timeless, and shows that it is not the flow of things that rules. Rather, it is the Creator, who, as we will discuss, is also the Revealer and the Redeemer, Who rules.
Brought back to Divine purpose and service, we then can re-enter ordinary time, enabled and strengthened to touch that time and our secular affairs with a bit more of the holiness that God invests in us.)