The blessing that sustains God’s people
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
A. This concise blessing proclaims the complete fulfillment of God’s purpose among His people.
A short blessing precedes a longer blessing (3-14). The short blessing contains a potent vision of possibility rooted in the action of a Triune God. The Father blesses through the Son by the power of the Spirit (Spirit is implied). The words “grace” and “peace” are not simply friendly greetings but contain actual power directed toward fulfilling our purpose.
B. This blessing is directed to a people and not simply a person.
While grace and peace impact the individual, these gifts both convey a blessing upon the community as a whole.
(Root meaning – to stoop, to turn as an expressed act of assistance, to be inclined)
Grace is a gift of God’s welcoming favor bestowed upon his people. The state of sin is a state of personal isolation. Thus we are saved, redeemed as individuals. God turns toward the repentant sinner and grafts her into his body, his chosen Bride. Thus grace is the action of God whereby the isolated individual is joined to the family of God and welcome to enjoy the benefits of the covenant people. In Ephesians, this favor is exemplified as a welcoming of the Gentiles into the covenant community of God.
It is important to note that grace is not simply an antidote for sin. God’s unilateral favor is present before and after sin. His presence, his face, his favor, his grace is the power of his presence realized in the life of believer raising them up to a higher place, lifting them into the glory of his love.
(Rooted in the Hebrews idea of Shalom)
Yahweh’s punishment of enemies, is explained by the fact that it is seen as part of Yahweh’s plan to restore his order in the world. Peace is that restored state of well-being for God’s covenant people. Peace indicates wholeness, completion and fulfillment of the ultimate purpose of being.
The idea of shalom seems intertwined with the idea of Sabbath. To fully grasp the meaning of peace, we might find it helpful to reflect on the meaning of Sabbath. I’ve read a several Jewish Rabbis to better understand their idea of Sabbath. Abraham Joshua Heschel is my primary source.
Sabbath is like a prince who was sent away from His Father. He spends many years away longing for His Father’s presence. One day he receives a message to prepare to return home for he will soon see his father again. The prince is so overcome with joy he wants to celebrate with the whole village. He enters the local tavern and orders drink and food for all. This is a day for rejoicing for the prince is returning to His father. The Sabbath reminds us to celebrate for we are going to the Father.
Sabbath is not so much a day as an atmosphere of rejoicing. Not a day for fasting and mourning but for feasting, rejoicing, celebrating: a day to rest from work and enjoy the Lord, his provision for us and our family.
Sabbath requires a day of preparation. Special foods are prepared for Sabbath.
Everyone dresses up in their finest—often wearing clothes only worn on Sabbath.
The table is set with the finest china and silver in the house.
At sundown. The priest blow three blasts on the trumpet. Sabbath is come!
Mother covers table with a white cloth, lights the sabbot candles, encircles the flame with her hands, and welcomes the holiness of the Sabbath. She prays ceremonial and private prayers and often weeps tears of joy.
Everyone waits with excitement as the Sabbath arrives like a bride or a queen illustrating God’s passion for His people.
There is a toast to bless the Sabbath and then a meal.
Two loaves of bread are served to symbolize the double portion of manna given in preparation for the Sabbath in the wilderness.
The next day is set aside. No work of any kind. Instead the day is divided between feasting and instruction (feasting on God’s works). Synagogue – Torah is read and men are free to get up and speak.
Family and friends spend the day together.
At the end of the day, another meal. A candle is lit to separate the sacred and the eternal returning to normal time.
For six days, each person toils and sweats, longing for the coming Sabbath. The literally counted their week in relation to Sabbath. One day after Sabbath, two days after Sabbath, three days after Sabbath, three days before Sabbath, two days before Sabbath, the day of preparation, Sabbath.
Moses went up to the mountaintop to meet God. The people wanted something to connect them to God, so they built a Golden Calf: an object in space that could focus their prayers and desires toward God. Moses returns from the mountain but does not give them an object of space, he gives them a moment of time: the Sabbath.
The Sabbath reminds us of a God who is greater than all space. The Sabbath reveals that we cannot own time: it is a gift of relationship.
“We are infatuated with the splendor of space, with the grandeur of things of space. Thing is a category that lies heavy on our minds, tyrannizing all our thought. Our imagination tends to mold all concepts in it image. On our daily lives we attend primarily to that which the senses are spelling out for us: to what the eyes perceive, consisting of substances that occupy space; even God is conceived by most of us as a thing.”(Heschel, 5)
“Judaism is a religion of time aiming at the sanctifying of time…Every hour is unique and the only one given at the moment, exclusive and endlessly precious…The Sabbaths are our great cathedrals; and our Holy of Holies is a shrine that neither the Romans nor the Germans were able to burn…” (Heschel, 8)
The seventh day is the climax of creation. It a day of rest. It reveals the whole meaning of creation in shared communion with the Creator. The Sabbath reveals the harmony of all things united in loving embrace of the Creator.
“The Sabbath day is a mine where spirit’s precious metal can be founds with which to construct the palace in time, a dimension in which the human is at home with the divine; a dimension in which man aspires to approach the likeness of the divine.” (Heschel, 18)
The Jews sometimes refer to Sabbath as a bride and the people of God as a husband. This is to indicate that the Sabbath. “To name it queen, to call it bride is merely to allude to the fact that its spirit is a reality we meet rather than an empty span of time, which we choose to set aside for comfort or recuperation” (Heschel, 59)
“A thought has blown the market places away. There is a song in the wind and joy in the trees. The Sabbath arrives in the world, scattering a song in the silence of the night: eternity utters a day. Where are the words that could compete with such might?” (Hechel, 67)
The Sabbath has sustained the Jewish people when everything was stripped from them: their homes, their land and even their lives. And yet the great empires of space fall to the ground and pass away. Israel, the tiny empire of time, continues even to this day.
“One must be overawed by the marvel of time to be ready to perceive the presence of eternity in a single moment. One must live and act as if the fate of all time would depend on a single moment.” (Heschel, 76)
“The “day of the Lord” is more important to the prophets than the “house of the Lord.” (Heschel, 80)
“Judaism tries to foster a vision of life as a pilgrimage to the seventh day; the longing for the Sabbath all days of the week which is a form of the longing for the eternal Sabbath all the days of our lives.” (Heschel, 90)
“Looking out of the window of a swiftly moving railroad car, we have the impression that the landscape is moving while we ourselves are sitting still. Similarly, when gazing at reality while our souls are carried away by spatial things, time appears to be in constant motion. However, when we learnt to understand that it is the spatial things that are constantly running out, we realize that time is that which never expires, that it is the world of space which is rolling through the infinite expanse of time. Thus temporality may be defined as space relating to time. Time, that which is beyond and independent of space, is everlasting; it is the world of space which is perishing. Things perish within time; time itself does not change. We should not speak of the flow or passage of time but of the flow or passage of space through time.” (Heschel, 97)
“In the spirit, there is no difference between a second and a century. One good hour may be worth a lifetime; an instant of returning to God may restore what has been lost in years of escaping from Him.” (Heschel, 98)
Sabbath Observance Degenerated Over Time
Over time, the simple call to rest from labor, remembrance of God’s great acts, and community worship gave way to extensive rules and regulation.
During the exile, many rules were added to help protect the Jews from enculturation. In fact, one Syrian ruler realized the power of the Sabbath to keep them separate from the culture and he outlawed it.
Jacob Neusner talks about how the rabbis used analogy to extend the prohibitions and expected actions. He says, “The result was a system of law that, in the rabbis’ own description, hung like a mountain from a strand of hair, containing an inordinate number of rules, based on a small biblical foundation.”
Jesus Comes and Restores the Glory of the Sabbath
At that time Jesus went through the grainfields on the Sabbath. And His disciples were hungry, and began to pluck heads of grain and to eat. 2 And when the Pharisees saw it, they said to Him, “Look, Your disciples are doing what is not lawful to do on the Sabbath!” 3 But He said to them, “Have you not read what David did when he was hungry, he and those who were with him: 4 how he entered the house of God and ate the showbread which was not lawful for him to eat, nor for those who were with him, but only for the priests? 5 Or have you not read in the law that on the Sabbath the priests in the temple profane the Sabbath, and are blameless? 6 Yet I say to you that in this place there is One greater than the temple. 7 But if you had known what this means, ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the guiltless. 8 For the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.”
The Sabbath is only an image, a type, a picture of the abundant life that Jesus brings.
16 So let no one judge you in food or in drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or sabbaths, 17 which are a shadow of things to come, but the substance is of Christ.
The people of God are called to live perpetually in the life of the Spirit, the Sabbath. Through his “called out community,” Shalom will become a living reality. Shalom is the result of the Sabbath. Shalom is the completion of God’s purposes on the earth.
God’s transforming power if revealed in the rest of the Spirit—not continuous activity. So the grace and peace of God are gifts of the Father through the Son by the Spirit that teach us to live in the reality of who we really are. We are Sabbath people: not bound by the lusts and desires of a world of space, but consumed with longing for the harmony of Shalom manifest in all our relations.
Once we begin to enter into this place of Shalom, we come to realize that space and time allow differing types of movement. But the goal of this movement is always the same: love. All things are being transformed by the love of God.