Growing up on a farm there is not much time for rest. There was barely time for a Sabbath hour, let alone a Sabbath day. There is always something to be done. We had to feed the cattle, fix the tractor, pickup rocks in the field, walk the pigs (my city friends got a kick out of that one…they even came over one time to take pictures of me doing that…they were sure that I would have a leash around the pigs like a dog and walk them around the yard…not quite how it works…but anyway) There was always something to be done on the farm. This was especially true during the spring and fall. During Planting season in the Spring and Harvest season in the Fall there was barely even time for sleeping and eating. However, amidst all the busyness I remember riding on the combine with my dad while he was harvesting the corn and soybeans. In middle school, I would be sitting in class counting down the minutes and seconds until I could ride on the extremely loud combine with my dad. Heck even when I go home now, I get excited to ride the combine with my dad. In the midst of all the equipment and loud noises, I found a place of sanctuary. It was a place where I have had some of my favorite conversations with my dad. It is also a place where I have found Sabbath. Often those moments were fleeting because something would often breakdown on the combine and my dad would have to go and fix it. But on an International combine, in a cornfield on cold fall evenings I found a place of rest, a place that felt safe. In the midst of a clanking combine I found a place to experience freedom.
In the text this morning, Jesus is in trouble for working on the Sabbath. A synagogue leader calls him out when he heals a woman who had been bent over for 18 years. The synagogue leader says that Jesus should be resting on the Sabbath. Jesus is once again turning what is expected on its head. However, I don’t think Jesus is arguing that we shouldn’t rest on the Sabbath. He is not saying that we should be workaholics all the time and never have any time for Sabbath and rest. The point of the text is not whether to keep the Sabbath, but how to keep the Sabbath. How are we able to experience Sabbath? This gets to the heart of the Isaiah reading this morning as well as the Luke text.
In the Old Testament there are two traditions concerning the Sabbath. The one you are probably most familiar with is in Exodus that links the Sabbath to the first creation account in Genesis, where God rests after six days of labor. As God rested, so should we and all of our households and even animals rest. The second tradition, in Deuteronomy, links the Sabbath to the Exodus; the Israelites freedom from slavery in Egypt. So in the second account Sabbath is linked to freedom, to liberty, to release from bondage and deliverance from captivity. I think it’s this tradition that Jesus is tapping into. He reminds his listeners of other instances of when releasing, untying, and setting free is allowed by law and then characterizes the woman’s ailment as being “bound by Satan.” Of course it is permissible to set someone free on the Sabbath, Jesus seems to say, for the Sabbath is all about freedom. Sometimes this freedom is life changing (like it was for the woman) and sometimes this freedom is only momentary (as it was for me on the combine). But the Sabbath to which Jesus refers, reminds us, that we too have been captive and were set free, and therefore we are invited to look around and see who else might still be bound and waiting for release.
There are many things in our lives that keep us bound and tied up and do not allow us to enjoy Sabbath. I would imagine that many of you find Sabbath here in this space on Sunday morning. However, there might be times in your life when Sunday morning felt like an obligation. Instead of feeling freedom, you feel bound and tied up. Worship is something that you have to do because I feel like I should do it. However, instead of looking at worship as something that we have to do, what if Sunday morning was about remembering how God has freed us so that we might free others? What if Sunday morning was about calling to mind the mighty acts of God that we might be encouraged to dare mighty acts ourselves? And what if Sunday morning was a day to remember that God has freed us from death, so that we don’t have to be bound by anything so that we might share our Christian courage with others?
After Jesus healed the crippled woman two things happened. First, of course she stood upright. I can’t imagine what that feeling would be. After 18 years of being bent over and crippled she was free once again. The second thing she did was praise God. She worshiped. You see, when she was set free she was about to experience Sabbath. She certainly did not experience Sabbath every moment from then on in her life. I am sure that she had other problems in her life. She possibly experienced back pain at a later date because she had been hunched over for so long, but in that fleeting moment she experienced Sabbath.
When we are able to experience freedom from the crippled and bent over state we find ourselves at times in our lives, we are able to do amazing things in God’s name. When we experience true Sabbath we experience freedom and relief. The woman in our gospel text was bound and bent over as if she was bearing a heavy burden. She was freed from this burden and was able to experience the celebration of an abundant life. Wherever, we experience Sabbath, in a quiet place, on a loud combine, or in this worship space, may we celebrate a life full of freedom praising the one who sets us free. Amen.