Sabbath & Eucharist in Brueggemann
Sabbath as Resistance is one of those brief theological reflections that packs a punch. It does more real work – exegesis, ethics, prophetic exhortation – in less than 100 pages than most theological works do in 300+. For Brueggemann, the esteemed Old Testament don from Columbia Seminary, Sabbath is not merely Blue Laws and avoiding lawn work, it is both an act of resistance and alternative to the dominant culture. To enter into Sabbath rest is to enact a counter-liturgy (here I am influenced by James K.A. Smith’s work on cultural liturgies) to the slavish existence that Pharoah brings.
In a remarkable passage from the Preface, Brueggemann links his vision of Sabbath with the Eucharist in a vivid image:
I have come to think that the moment of giving the bread of Eucharist as gift is the quintessential center of the notion of Sabbath rest in Christian tradition. It is gift! We receive in gratitude. Imagine having a sacrament named “thanks”! We are on the receiving end, without accomplishment, achievement, or qualification. It is a gift, and we are grateful! That moment of gift is a peaceable alternative that many who are “weary and heavy-laden, cumbered with a load of care” receive gladly. The offer of free gift, faithful to Judaism, might let us learn enough to halt the dramatic anti-neighborliness to which our society is madly and uncritically committed. (xvi-xvii)
Like the Eucharist, Sabbath is a gift of God that grows us in grace. It is an alternative to the “earn and take” society we know too well, in that we can only receive this good gift and be glad in it.
Like the Eucharist, Sabbath invites us to a different world, a different narrative. The “give us this day our daily bread” from the Lord’s Prayer might well hearken back to the manna that sustained God’s people in the wilderness, bread they were given each day – except the day before the Sabbath, in which they were given a double portion so they could experience rest.
Similarly, the bread of the Eucharist is a Sabbath bread, an invitation to receive from God’s own hand, and to rest (however briefly) in a world where abundance is not deserved or grabbed, but received and shared by all who desire it. To participate in the Lord’s Supper is to gain a glimpse of the Kingdom feast, the Wedding Supper of the Lamb, where all are fed and none go hungry.
As the author of Hebrews said, “there is a Sabbath rest for the people of God,” a rest that we envision every time we sit at table with Jesus and his friends. We are not Superman, we are allowed a respite, and there is none more nourishing than this great feast of the church.