Week 5 – Part III, Sabbath as Eternity

Things created in six days God considered “good,” the seventh day He made “holy.”

Abraham Joshua Heschel, The Sabbath, pg 75.

Read and reflect

This week, read part III, chapters 7 through 10

Chapters 7, 8, 9, and 10 – which Heschel brings together as part III of the book – are best read as a whole. Here we have a sense of the finality that The Sabbath has been leading to.

In chapter seven we see the elaborate preparations for Sabbath of which it is worthy. It is like waking up on your wedding day – so much to do. Your hair must be done, nails must be polished, check the dress one more time. What about the bridesmaids and groomsmen – are they all ready? Are the flowers at the church?  Is all in order, for the bride is coming.

Chapter eight expands on the idea, which Heschel has already introduced in previous chapters, that Sabbath and eternity are the same – or at least of the same essence. “The spirit is waiting for man to join it,” says Heschel. He presents the idea by recalling some of the psalms, with which the Jewish people are very familiar.

Sabbath is a moment of redemption,” he adds, “as if for a moment the spirit of The Messiah moved over the face of the earth.”  Christians may see in this Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem before the crucifixion.

 “The Sabbath possesses a holiness,” says Heschel,  “like that of the world to come” (pg 75).

Six days of the week we attend to – as we must and should – the things of his world: working at our jobs, earning money for survival, raising a family. But the seventh day is a little morsel of holiness. If we don’t know how to celebrate Sabbath, we will have no idea how to enjoy eternity.

Moving to chapter nine, Heschel reminds us that the emphasis on time is a prominent feature of prophetic thinking. “ ’The Day of the Lord is more important to the prophets than the house of the Lord’,” declares Heschel, adding, “Sanctity is not bound to a particular place” (pg 81). “If God is everywhere,” says Heschel, “He cannot be just somewhere” (pg 81).

In chapter ten, Heschel says that the Sabbath cannot survive in exile. It needs the companionship of the other days. All the days of the week must be spiritually consistent with the seventh day. All our days should point toward Sabbath as a pilgrimage to the seventh day.

Finally, man must fight to achieve an “inner liberty” from the things of this world. “This is our constant problem,” says Heschel. “How to live with people and remain free, how to live with things and remain independent” (pg 89).

Heschel is leading us to a vision of life as a pilgrimage to the seventh day. Our longing for Sabbath should be as strong as our longing for eternity.   

As you reflect on the entire book, what are some of the “take aways” for you about Sabbath?

How will you live them out?

More Resources on Sabbath

How to keep your family’s Sabbath holy

An ordinary Christian family was inspired by their Jewish neighbors to institute practicing Sabbath. They decided to spend their Sabbath time outdoors and experienced some of the best days of their family life.

Retreat, Reflection, Sabbath, and Soul-Space

Retreat, reflection, Sabbath, and soul-space are of the essence of the monastic spirit—not for our sake alone, but for the sake of those who depend on us to make the promise of creation new again says Joan Chittister in this reflection.

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