Have you ever set out to read the Bible from cover to cover?
Frequently, people with the best of intentions come to a screeching halt just a few chapters into Leviticus. The so called “Holiness Code,” with its instructions on washing and purifying bodies, animals, and things can read like…well…a CDC manual.
That’s because it kinda is, the question behind Leviticus (and much of scripture) is this: How do unholy people serve a Holy God? So, when Leviticus lays out rituals for washing it is taking something that happens every day and gives it holy meaning. It’s not just a matter of personal hygiene to wash your hands, it also protects your community, tribe, and nation; but it is also an act of worship.
Now I’m not writing this to inspire you read Leviticus. However, I do want you to see that there is a pre-scientific wisdom in the Bible that recognizes that we need to care for ourselves and that when we do, we also care for the health and well-being of our families, communities, and nation.
For instance, it took the medical community until the 1840s to realize a doctor should wash their hands between going to the morgue and delivering a baby. Yet according to the book of Numbers, touching a dead body makes a person unclean (separated from all other people) for seven days. Even if they didn’t know why this was a good idea, there is a kind of insight about what humans need to be healthy and whole.
Please don’t hear me telling you to get your medical advice from the Bible or that I’m ignoring the cultural biases found within scripture.
As the pandemic marches on, gatherings are limited, and plans and events are thrown into limbo. I can’t help but think we are forced to…sabbath. You know…
“Remember the sabbath day and keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work. But the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work—you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the alien resident in your towns. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day and consecrated it. (Exodus 20:8-11)”
Or in a slightly different version, “Observe the sabbath day and keep it holy, as the Lord your God commanded you. Six days you shall labor and do all your work. But the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work—you, or your son or your daughter, or your male or female slave, or your ox or your donkey, or any of your livestock, or the resident alien in your towns, so that your male and female slave may rest as well as you. Remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God brought you out from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm; therefore the Lord your God commanded you to keep the sabbath day.” (Deuteronomy 5:12-15)
You should definitely read Leviticus 25 (here), here God instructs the Israelites that every seventh year the land needs to rest and every fiftieth year there is to be a “Jubilee” when everything pushes reset, land is returned, debts are forgiven. Listen to this from God to the people, “The land shall not be sold in perpetuity, for the land is mine; with me you are but aliens and tenants.” (Leviticus 25:23). There are stories out there while people are driving less, flying less, and simply doing less that pollution is less visible from space. It will be interesting to follow such stories and see if it makes a difference.
Our bodies need rest. Sabbath is way of ritualizing rest and making it an act of worship. Many of us are being forced to rest right now and we don’t want to. Many of us are trying to live our lives and do what we do, but only from home–whether that is for work or having kids at home from school. Others are busier than ever–medical staff, grocery store clerks, and many others (all of whom are being reminded that our bodies need rest).
In the next few days, do some wondering with me. How might we embrace this moment of forced rest? How will we calm our anxieties to even catch our breath? How will we help others to do the same? On the other side of all this pandemic pause, what do we want to be different? How can we start now?