Celebrating Sabbath Lesson One

August 5, 2022
"This Is the Day to Rejoice" by Jen Norton
"This Is the Day to Rejoice" by Jen Norton

Lesson One: Sabbath and Celebration

Primary Scripture: Matthew 11:28–12:13

“Making Space for Sabbath”

If you are reading this, it probably means that you are beginning an exploration of Sabbath by way of the new PW/Horizons Bible study—Celebrating Sabbath: Accepting God’s Gift of Rest and Delight. As the author of that study, I am obviously biased about it! But I can’t wait for you to experience some of what I have learned through working on it. I’m not exaggerating when I say that it has changed my life. I hope it will change yours, too—in the best possible ways.

At a recent PW gathering, a young woman asked me to “translate” Sabbath for the younger generation. It was a great question, but as I sought to respond, I realized that all of us could probably benefit from some “translation.” Those of us who think we know what Sabbath is, may need to revise—or at least expand—some of our assumptions.

Wherever you are on the Sabbath spectrum, you may find some wisdom in this attempt at “translation.” Think of Sabbath as a pause. Whether that pause is 24 minutes or 24 hours, it’s time that you consciously set aside to honor God by taking time off from everyday tasks.

Of course, this is much easier to say than it is to do! Our responsibilities don’t go away just because we decide to press “pause.” And one of the ironies of my own Sabbath-seeking experience is that I tend to work harder beforehand to make that Sabbath pause possible. Still, even as I’m rushing around to get things done, I find myself looking forward to that moment when I can say, “Shabbat shalom!” Sabbath peace!

There is a prayer that I have found to be particularly helpful when I’m feeling like I can’t possibly take time for Sabbath. It’s a prayer that is traditionally said before sleep, but I think it works just as well before Sabbath. See what you think:

O God our Creator,
by whose mercy and might
the world turns safely into darkness
and returns again to light:
We give into your hands our unfinished tasks,
our unsolved problems,
and our unfulfilled hopes,
knowing that only those things [that] you bless will prosper.
To your great love and protection
we commit each other
and all for whom we have prayed,
knowing that you alone are our sure defender,
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.[1]

Sometimes, when I pray this prayer, I make the physical motion of giving over into God’s hands A) my unfinished tasks, B) unsolved problems, and C) my unfulfilled hopes. And I think, “Well, God—here you go. Take these for a while. I’ll pick them up later, but hold them for me for a while, will you please?”

God does take them and then the most marvelous thing happens. Once I have put those things into God’s hands, my own hands are suddenly empty—and I’m finally able to receive the gift of Sabbath.

A wise person once said: “Everything comes to us that belongs to us, if we create the capacity to receive it.”[2] That, I think, is the first and most important step to accepting “God’s gift of rest and delight.” We must create the capacity to receive it. Because if our hands aren’t empty, we won’t be able to receive the gift.

Pray this prayer when you’re struggling with whether you can pause long enough to celebrate Sabbath. I think you’ll be glad you did. I know you’ll be glad you did.

God wants to give you a beautiful gift called Sabbath. Will you create the capacity to receive it?

Carol M. Bechtel
author of the 2022-2023 PW/Horizons Bible Study


Additional resources to use with this lesson:

Bonus Quote: Russian author, Leo Tolstoy, says, “If, then, I were asked for the most important advice I could give—that which I consider to be the most useful to the [people] of our century—I should simply say, ‘In the name of God, stop a moment. Cease your work. Look around you.’”[3]

Suggested Hymn: “Come to Me, O Weary Traveler” Glory to God 183

Suggested Sabbath-themed song: “Come to Me” by Sandra McCracken

[1] Book of Common Worship: Daily Prayer (Louisville: WJK, 1993) 121.
[2] Rabindranath Tagore, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize for Literature, 1913.
[3] Leo Tolstoy, in Essays, Letters, and Miscellanies.

Presbyterian Women in the PC(USA), Inc. publishes an annual Bible study. Celebrating Sabbath: Accepting God’s Gift of Rest and Delight is the study for this year. Purchase a Celebrating Sabbath bible study book and study along with us.

Call 800/533-4371 and order product #HZN22100 or order online

This blog is the first in a series of nine blogs written by the study’s author Carol M. Bechtel. PW will post a blog each month through April 2023.