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United Church of Chester

March 3, 2024

Rev. Dr. Eileen Sypher

Sabbath Keeping

Jesus says, “I come to bring you life, and to bring it to you abundantly.”  It is important to remember this during Lent, which can often feel like a season of deprivation—a season of don’ts, of commandments.  On the contrary, our spiritual practices, our saying no to some things, our life reviews in Lent, bring us closer to clearing away the confusion of the world and living in Jesus’ abundance.

It is delight that I want to lift up for us this morning.  How can we experience more and more delight in this world we are in, which often feels so much the opposite?  One of the delight practices highlighted in today’s scripture is keeping a holy Sabbath. 

Keeping.  Most of us try to keep house, house keeping.  We don’t really look forward to it, but when all is dusted and vacuumed and washed and polished, there is nothing like it, is there?  Having restored the house to its beauty, we know the delight of our dwelling then.  I have been thinking about Sabbath in the same way, Sabbath keeping, dusting off the parts of our lives that keep us from God, washing, polishing, so we delight in God’s world.  It takes time apart, as does housekeeping.  It takes intentional cleaning. 

But what is a holy Sabbath?  Does it require going to church regularly on Sundays?  Does it mean following an elaborate set of rules like some of our Jewish friends do on Shabbat?  Christianity proclaims that in Jesus all the laws are fulfilled, so such elaborate rules aren’t necessary.  Hence Jesus, in today’s Gospel, overthrows the money changers’ tables, confounding custom.  Elsewhere he heals on the Jewish Sabbath.

 In the Protestant Reformed tradition, our tradition, neither keeping elaborate rules nor, you may be surprised, the keeping of faithful Sunday worship are required.  While the Roman Catholic Church eventually set apart regular Sunday church attendance as mandatory, Protestants instead named a Lord’s Day, a Day for people to gather together as they wished.  So, don’t feel guilt when you don’t go to church of a Sunday, rather feel that you have missed time with each other, time to renew your faith!  One of our most famous Christian poets, Wendell Berry, has written his Sabbath poems about Sundays in the forest.  We will visit one of these later.

Knowing some time apart from the world is needed, so very needed, time for us to know that we are God’s and to know that though we are in the world, we are not of it.  And so many of us keep Sunday church and develop Sabbath practices at home that remind us of God.

Sabbath keeping at home is perhaps only a memory for a lot of us.  Like a lot of you, I think a lot about memories.  Some of us as we age worry we are losing ours, and we do, of course, lose track of names and details—I like to say it is because our computer brains are overloaded.  But there are some memories we should try to hold onto, nourish.

Here today we again make memory of Jesus’ Last Supper.  How important this is to lodge this deep into memory, in ourselves, in our children.  We make many memories in our church life, memories which sustain us throughout our lives.  But another crucial memory for us, in addition to Communion, is the memory of Sabbath, a Sabbath Day, usually Sunday.  For those of us who have a long memory of the church, even if we don’t come on a Sunday, don’t we remember the need for Sabbath time? 

As God rested on the seventh day of creation, so we are urged to rest from our worldly labors and live in another space, a God space.  This is not a chore.  It is, instead, an utter delight.

 My family’s Sabbath ways were much more relaxed in comparison to those of my Jewish friends, but even they seem antique in our world now. As I briefly share mine with you, I invite you to linger on your own.  I am sure you of a certain age have them.

 My grandparents lived with my mother and brother Ed and me.  Our father had died and they moved in to help raise us, giving up their own home in Deep River.  They had been Lutherans, Swedish Lutherans, but moved into the Chester Church when they moved to Chester.  I have so many photos of all of us standing on the sidewalk in front of the house, ready to go to church, all dressed up.  My grandmother had a small pot of rouge that she would use only for Sundays, one small spot on each cheek.

When we came home from church, there was no work for any of us.  I don’t know how Sunday dinner had been cooked, but it was ready, waiting, probably made the day before and heated up.  My grandfather didn’t garden.  No one plucked chickens (we had raised 500 of them) or hung our laundry.  Saturday was a day of cleaning and bed changing and bathing and having hair pinned up, but Sunday was rest.  After church and after we ate Sunday dinner, in the afternoon, if the weather was fine, we sat outside.  Many times in the good weather others in the wider family would come up, bring their instruments, talk, have something to drink (only the men had whiskey then).  If there were no company I would sit in the hammock if we could be outdoors and read.  It was a quiet day, a day of rest.  Blessed rest.

We all know how that has changed, as it has changed for me.  I do laundry on the sabbath.  I can still hear my grandmother chiding me.  I hope here to encourage us all to find ways of keeping the sabbath in ways that work in this world of ours, where the children now have sports, the stores are open.  We are not that happy about that and we fight those who are hostile to the idea of Sabbath (certainly it is advantageous to retailers), seeing in it a moralism that is distasteful.  Nothing could be farther from the essence of Sabbath delight.

We won’t be able to change 7 days of commercialism, or the moralism of others who think we are Puritanical if we suggest sabbath.  But never mind them.  We ourselves can claim sabbath time, in church and at home.  But we must consciously dedicate such time to living in God delight.

To cultivate a sabbath sensibility and sabbath practices,  to begin with we must, as Abraham Heschel says in his powerful little book Sabbath,  “lay down the profanity of clattering commerce, go away from the source of dissonance, learn that the world has already been created and will survive without our help.”  Probably this means not shopping on our Ipads or even planning our day.

Heschel goes on to say that sabbath is not what we call “relaxation.”  Rather it is rest.  It is remembering the palace of the soul.  It is not without comfort in body, but it is dedicated to rest, and not only rest for oneself, but all of the world.  Sabbath is active rest , if you will.  When we truly rest, we can notice a tree, a turtle, a bird, a smile.  We stop.  We stop.

Not having a sabbath sensibility is damaging to us and our earth and our animals. 

Sabbath meant rest, rest for farm animals, could we extend rest to the poor animals trapped in factory farms?  In Exodus 20, all are to rest:  “sons and daughters, slaves, oxen, donkeys, livestock, immigrants…that they may rest like you.”  Sabbath is the great day of equality among all God’s creatures.  Moses takes this even further:  every 7 years all debt of the poor is to be cancelled.  Imagine!

Sabbath is resistance to a culture of greed, accumulation, resistance to being chewed up in the machine of consumption.    Sabbath cures our anxiety.

But making Sabbath time is also making space for God.  Keeping sabbath time is a way, says Walter Breuggmann, of “making a statement of peculiar identity amid a larger public identity, of maintaining and enacting a counter-identity that refuses ‘mainstream identity, which itself entails anti-human practice and the worship of antihuman gods.

As we make memory again of Jesus’ last supper, let us continue to make memory of the Sabbath in our practices every day, remembering whose we are and in whom we delight.


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United Church of Chester, 29 West Main Street, Chester, CT 06412. (860) 526-2697


From the North: Take CT Route 9 South to Exit 8 (old exit 6) (CT 148). Turn left; we are 1 mile on the right.


From the South: Take CT Route 9 North to Exit 8 (old exit 6) (CT 148). Turn Right; we are .8 miles on the right.

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