Theology Update for the Week of September 2

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Dear friends in Christ,

Out of Egypt: Reading Exodus Theologically

On September 2 at 10 a.m., the Sunday class continues its study of the book of Exodus in the Old Testament. After reaching Mt. Sinai, the Israelites receive what in Hebrew is termed the “Ten Words,” the Decalogue, what we customarily refer to as the Ten Commandments. In this class session, we look particularly at the second set of commandments, the thou shalt nots.

In addition to being a record of the central event in Jewish history – the exodus from Egypt and journey toward the Promised Land – Exodus also provides a prime case study of the benefits of a utilization of the traditional “four senses” of scripture: the literal, the typological, the moral, and the mystical.

How to be a Sinner

On Thursday, September 27 at 6:30 p.m., Dr. Peter Bouteneff of St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Seminary reflects on the language of guilt and sin common to much Christian prayer. While not without its risks, a faithful Christian understanding of a “sinner identity” is in fact a prerequisite for the good news of the gospel message, and can help lead the believer into the way of Christ’s mercy, grace, and salvation. Of Dr. Bouteneff’s book on the topic, Rowan Williams writes, “This excellent book combines a solid theological perspective, fully informed by the depths of the Christian spiritual tradition, with a vigorous and very contemporary insight into a culture that has largely forgotten what sin means.” (This event was originally scheduled for March 7 but cancelled due to a snowstorm.)

Labor Day and the Sabbath

On June 28, 1894, President Grover Cleveland signed into law a bill, S. 730, making the first Monday of September each year a federal holiday, “celebrated and known as Labor’s Holiday.” You can see the original bill here, brief and to the point.

One of the more striking commandments in the Decalogue is that regarding the sabbath:

Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days shalt thou labor, and do all thy work: But the seventh day is the sabbath of the Lord thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates: For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it. (Exodus 20:8-11)

It is remarkable for a few reasons. For one, it is long. Only the “no graven images” commandment is longer. It gives the fullest explanation of why the commandment is a commandment, pointing back to creation, and gives the most detail as to how the commandment should be kept, pointing forward to Israel’s future observance. Second, it is utterly unique among the nations in the Ancient Near East. None that we know of had a similar prohibition on work as part of a regular cycle of observance, independent of the movements of the sun or moon. Finally, it is the Lord’s sabbath and thus the Lord’s gift to his people. It is, Abraham Joshua Heschel wrote, “the most precious present mankind has received from the treasure house of God.” It is “a taste of eternity.”

Not everyone has the opportunity to make “Labor’s Holiday” a sabbath, of course. For many, there is still work to be done. Insofar as it is possible, however, I hope an element of sabbath rest can be part of these waning days of summer for you, whether it is on the first Monday in September or at some other time. Remember that it is a preview of the great sabbath that we await, to be enjoyed in the presence of God, surrounded by his choir of angels. During your sabbath time, whenever it may be, savor that taste of eternity, the life of the world to come.

Yours in Christ,
Joel