Thursday, September 06, 2007

Sabbath Rest, Worship and the Eigth Day, pt. 1

For sometime now the Anglobaptist has been posting on Sabbath, as he and two other bloggers have been reading and then commenting on a chapter at a time of Wayne Muller's book on Sabbath practices. I have followed the posts with interest and occasionally read what the others have said but have felt little need to engage the conversation and have mainly used it to leisurely reflect on what Sabbath means. That is until this post about Sabbath and worship, most particularly the inability to be restful and have worship be a Sabbath practice when leading a community in worship. This reflection begins with my two comments on the post. I am not directly issues of morning sabbath, but of leading worship as restful and a sabbath practice.

I will be upfront Tripp is not alone in feeling that pastoral leadership of a worship service is not restful, and that I generally am tired after a worship service. Tripp's struggle also has been articulated to me by some pastors as an inability to "worship" when leading worship. Through all of my experiences of leading worship and consistently doing so at Reconciler for nearly the past three years, I have consistently felt some level of being tired after the service, but also restful and rejuvenated, and I have never had trouble worshiping while leading worship. The consistent assertion that one would have difficulty worshiping while leading worship and that one would not find leading worship restful and rejuvenating, has seemed to me to be a malady of misunderstanding worship. However, until Tripp mentioned this struggle in the context of the meaning of sabbath rest I could not place my finger on the problem.

First let me say that what I, in part, heard in Tripp's posts and his comments in response to Meegan's comments was that worship is a passive or largely passive activity of receiving something. This is the first problem, we of lost the sense of liturgy as work, ie. the literal translation of liturgy is the "work of the people". The rejuvenating restful sabbath practice of worshiping God is work, it is not supposed to be the passive activity of one group receiving from some other group who are doing the work of worship. Yet this is just the beginning of the problem.

How is it that a restful sabbath practice is also work? Is not sabbath rest the cessation of work? Did not God create the world in six days and then on the seventh he rested? However, I think these sorts of questions relate us to sabbath rest in the way the majority of Pharisees understood the sabbath and are the reasons they could not receive Jesus' healing on the sabbath as appropriate sabbath activity. Jesus approached the Sabbath from a differing perspective than the Pharisees and it opens up to the Church a differing day that the Sabbath to worship God and have Sabbath practices, that is the eighth day, the day of the Resurrection the first day of the week.

To understand this differing perspective we must understand the creation of the world from a heavenly and not earthly perspective or more to the point we must interpret creation narrative and the Sabbath from the eschaton. To merely say that God worked to create and then rested, misses that this cannot be true as if God experiences time like us. It might be helpful here to assert with Aquinas that God is simple while we are composite. Rest and work are separate and distinct operations for us, that cannot be true of God unless God is bound to time like we are. No in some sense we must assert that rest and work are simultaneous for God, the way to express this in ways we can understand as an example of our needing rest we have the six day and then the seventh. This is further affirmed by the fact that we then have a feed back loop of seven days, as humanity is to live out this pattern of work and rest, and yet this feed back loop is in a sense simply the seventh day, the day of God's rest, the day in which the fall and all of human history up and until the time of Christ takes place.

What the Pharisees could not see was that in Jesus Christ a day beyond the 7th day and beyond the feedback loop of the life of creation was being inaugurated in their very presence, the day of the eschaton, the eighth day that is beyond and encompasses all days. Properly understood Christian worship is the expression and earthly manifestation of this. As Meyendorff and Schmemann assert in many places, the orientation of the Church and its worship is the eschaton, the end, the eighth day. the rest we are to enter into encompasses but is beyond sabbath rest, it is to enter into the simultaneity of the Divine life. In that we may begin to understand the something like the restful rejuvenating work of the liturgy. In the second part of this post I hope to expand on this idea more.