Posted by: Drew Sutton | March 31, 2009

Sustainable Sabbath in Exodus

Let’s take a look at Exodus 16, the story of God providing food for the Israelites’ survival in the wilderness. God sent manna for six days during which people were to collect enough for themselves; never any more, never any less. On the sixth day people were to collect twice as much needed to sustain them through the seventh day when no manna was supplied. “On the sixth day, they gathered twice as much… Tomorrow is to be a day of rest, a holy Sabbath to the Lord…so the people rested on the 7th day.” 16:22-23

You have probably heard this story many times, even reading it from multiple perspectives. However, I have begun to ask a few questions I’d never thought of before (maybe you have…if you have you’ll be able to offer some interesting insight to the conversation so leave a comment about your thoughts).

Consider this: We never hear of Moses getting up each morning and collecting his needed share of manna. We don’t hear of him grabbing his basket and heading out early to pick up his portion of manna before attending to the needs of the people of Israel. We don’t hear of the conversations that Moses and Aaron might have had about the struggles of being leaders of the people in exile in the wilderness as they gathered their extra portion of manna to sustain them through the Sabbath day.

This got me thinking about how he might have collected his manna, if Moses was not doing his own gathering. Was there a hierarchy of people in the wilderness? Would there have been a group of people whose responsibility it was to gather the manna for others? Would they have had to pick multiple portions of manna each day, for themselves and for others; possibly numerous trips out each morning gathering twice as much manna for multiple people on the 6th day in order to have enough for the community through the seventh day? Questions arise concerning the nature of the work force responsible for collecting the nourishment for the people.

We read this story thanking God for hearing the grumble of his people; providing the much needed resources to sustain life; and paving a way when there seemed to be no way. But I have never looked at it from the standpoint of a worker among the Israelites, and the hierarchy established within the community.

This got me thinking about the culture of Sabbath we are missing in our present day communities. Maybe some of us are able to practice Sabbath. I know I struggle with making room for Sabbath as the schedule I create dictates (chronos time) where and what I am doing rather than providing space for new ideas. But I do have the luxury of thinking about Sabbath (kyros time). As a student, I could set aside a day in which I did no work. Many of us might be in that same position. What about the people who are not able to make that decision or have no option to even consider this Sabbath concept? Think about those who work for 24 hour convenience stores or fast food restaurants. What about the coffee shops on Sunday morning, where we might gather for some quiet time before worship? How about lunch at the restaurant after worship, where we as a family or community we gather for rest and fellowship while someone else serves us during our day of rest. Of course it is a good thing for these businesses to be open, providing jobs and wages to people, but we must take seriously the nature of this Sabbath day if we are going to take seriously the issues of sustainability.

We live in a time when resources are available 24 hours a day and 7 days a week, where entertainment is available at all times, electronically via television, internet, or radio, where different resources constantly compete for our time. Time is classified as a commodity in our world regulated by chronos time. Chronos time allows us to quantify the nature of passing seconds, moments, hours, days, weeks and so on and so forth. It is a human construct, a commodity, a valuable resource, a raw material in which we must decide the most effective method of being productive. This chronos time is how we schedule our lives in order to be productive members of a household, a society, a community.

Chronos time gives us a means of structuring our lives, but God offers us a different means of structuring our time, kyros time; a time which can not be measured by human means; a time which all of Creation is give the chance to abide; a time which provides that which is needed to sustain each day and allows us to gather enough. Kyros time allows us to enjoy the beauty of chronos, savoring that which has been produced over the six previous days. Allowing space for Sabbath, kyros time allows us along with Creation space to breath in a deeper connection with the one who created all.

It is in exodus that God gives Moses and the people an opportunity to foster an understanding of chronos time and kyros time. The Israelites live in the divine space that separates the two and yet allowing for kyros and chronos time to merge. They gather manna for six days in chronos time recognizing that God the keeper of kyros time provides the manna. Knowing that chronos time dictates the arrival of the Sabbath, they work with anticipation of the coming Sabbath when all of Creation may rest, refresh and reconnect with the Creator.

Even if Moses had someone doing his gathering for him, everyone received the seventh day for Sabbath. In our culture of 24/7, we may be able to think of Sabbath and begin to make plans to enjoy the kyros time, but our Sabbath depends on others functioning within the chronos time. The society in which we live has a fascination with instant gratification and constant desires requiring attention. We have needs and wants that our culture now accommodates any and all time leaving it increasingly difficult to notice the kyros time that gives meaning to the endless cycles of chronos time. We have required the worker to collect manna, to collect ceaselessly devaluing the beauty of God’s gift.

Therefore, what if we did all of our gathering in 6 days of chronos so that we could have a day free to delight in the kyros? What if we took seriously that God in the chronos will provide enough for us to sustain our lives? That this sustainability leaves us the space for Sabbath; to allow all of Creation to live more fully in the light of the one who has created and continues to create.

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