The Lord spoke to Moses on Mount Sinai, saying: Speak to the people of Israel and say to them: When you enter the land that I am giving you, the land shall observe a sabbath for the Lord. For six years you shall sow your field, and for six years you shall prune your vineyard, and gather in their yield; but in the seventh year there shall be a sabbath of complete rest for the land, a sabbath for the Lord: you shall not sow your field or prune your vineyard. You shall not reap the aftergrowth of your harvest or gather the grapes of your unpruned vine: it shall be a year of complete rest for the land. You may eat what the land yields during its sabbath—you, your male and female slaves, your hired and your bound labourers who live with you; for your livestock also, and for the wild animals in your land all its yield shall be for food.
You shall count off seven weeks of years, seven times seven years, so that the period of seven weeks of years gives forty-nine years. Then you shall have the trumpet sounded loud; on the tenth day of the seventh month—on the day of atonement—you shall have the trumpet sounded throughout all your land. And you shall hallow the fiftieth year and you shall proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants. It shall be a jubilee for you: you shall return, every one of you, to your property and every one of you to your family. That fiftieth year shall be a jubilee for you: you shall not sow, or reap the aftergrowth, or harvest the unpruned vines. For it is a jubilee; it shall be holy to you: you shall eat only what the field itself produces.
In this year of jubilee you shall return, every one of you, to your property. When you make a sale to your neighbour or buy from your neighbour, you shall not cheat one another. When you buy from your neighbour, you shall pay only for the number of years since the jubilee; the seller shall charge you only for the remaining crop-years. If the years are more, you shall increase the price, and if the years are fewer, you shall diminish the price; for it is a certain number of harvests that are being sold to you. You shall not cheat one another, but you shall fear your God; for I am the Lord your God.
You shall observe my statutes and faithfully keep my ordinances, so that you may live on the land securely. The land will yield its fruit, and you will eat your fill and live on it securely.
Lent is a time for rituals. Sometimes rituals grow tedious and add to the demands of our lives. But Leviticus prescribes rituals for renewal for all of creation in the laws of the Sabbath and the year of Jubilee.
In his book Sabbath as Resistance, Walter Brueggemann locates the Sabbath in the context of Egypt’s coercive labor practices of anxious production. The economic situation of Egypt was such that laborers who produced wealth never held it in their hands, yet the wealthy urged greater production on the backs of poor workers and slaves. God’s commandment of the Sabbath released the Israelites from this captivity. The Sabbath required rest from work, and therefore limited the amount of production and labor the Israelites could do. The Sabbath halted the corrupt system of production that harmed God’s people.
In her piece, “An Equal Measure of Grace,” Rev. Layton Williams discusses the unfair standards queer clergy place on themselves as a result of heterosexism in the church. Queer clergy must work extra hard not to appear as inept or sinful as conservatives make them out to be, just as black people must work harder than white people to gain credibility in a racist world, and just as women must work twice as hard as men for the same job for which they’ll wind up receiving less pay. Such constraints produce a disproportionate amount of anxiety and exhaustion for the marginalized.
But God orders a reversal of such a world order. God’s Sabbath liberates all of creation together with a time when all can resist the structures of this world that overwork us, exploit us, and try to keep us from seeing any of the fruit we’ve produced. God’s Sabbath orders us to find the time in our lives when we can rest and resist. God’s Sabbath is a ritual of renewal.
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