Today is a snow day. Not a “skiff of snow” or an inch of ice. This is a good, old-fashioned snow day. We’re talking about a foot of the powdery white stuff here. The “I’ve got to put on my knee-high boots” kind of snow. It started last night, and is still going on as I write this. Its equal turns beautiful and depressing, magical and mundane. And it has brought virtually EVERYTHING in town to…a…grinding…halt. Other than some enterprising individuals going about with snowplows and some neighborly folks helping each other clear their driveways, almost everyone is huddling in their homes praying the power doesn’t go out.
This is in many ways an inconvenience for us. Parents (who may not have had their work cancelled today) have to figure out childcare arrangements for kids out of school. Meetings have to be rescheduled, events have to be postponed, dinner plans have to be put off, and even Valentine’s Day dates might not happen. Some people will even see a hit in their paycheck as they lose hours at work. In many ways, this storm is a problem.
Yet in one very important way, the very enforced nature of this snowbound reclusiveness is a Godsend. Stuck in our homes, with little reason to go outside except to build snowmen and go sledding, this should be a day of rest – and God has designed us to need a day of rest. Not only that, he has commanded it. “Remember the Sabbath and keep it holy,” we read over and over in Scripture, and some of us do that (almost) every Sunday morning by going to church. Yet we seem to have missed a second emphasis of the Sabbath: it is a day of rest. In Genesis, we are told that on the seventh day – the prototype Sabbath – God rested. In Deuteronomy’s version of the 10 Commandments, the Sabbath command instructs the Israelites to do no work that day as a memorial to their past as slaves in Egypt – in God’s new world, we aren’t slaves.
In our Western culture, however, work (and the things that work brings) are held up as the highest goal or aspiration; we might even call work itself, or the money and things it provides, an idol. Thus we have a culture in which the richest of the rich and the poorest of the poor alike have to work long hours, sometimes even two jobs, just to get by or get the things that "matter." It was no surprise to me, then, that as I spoke with my neighbor while we shoveled her driveway, I discovered that her company expected employees with company laptops to work from home. It wasn’t even a surprise for me to find myself feeling a little guilty if I didn’t do some work today. So I started my day by catching up on e-mails, making phone calls, and getting some study in for my sermon on Sunday.
And then…I read my devotion for the day. I know, I’m supposed to do that first thing. Usually, I try to do that – but today, it just didn’t happen until late morning. Opening my Bible, I turned to Exodus 16. Moses and Aaron have to deal with a crowd of whiney Israelites: hungry, tired, and wondering if this was what they really signed on for. The two leaders recognize that they need to not take the whining personally – and they also ask God to meet the need of the people. Food is what God promises, and food is what God provides.
God provides it, however, in a particular way, a way that helps his people understand what it means to live the life he has made possible for them. Food gathering and preparation in a non-commercialized society is hard work. I saw this in my recent trip to Ghana: people labored in the fields to bring forth a crop. When it was harvested, hours and hours went into making the food ready to eat. Shelled vegetables were shucked. Corn was cut off the cob and roasted. Beans were laid out to dry. And making the dishes, like the staple fufu, took muscle and time. All of this was similar in the ancient world in which the Israelites lived, and it was what they were used to.
What God is providing, however, is something that is more freeing than that. There was still work involved in eating the miraculous manna and quail: the manna had to be gathered each day, and the quail had to be caught, plucked, and prepared before it could be consumed. Yet one day a week, the people were not to go prepare their food. They were to make sure they had enough so they could take a day off…and the people who didn’t do that found that there was no provision of food on the seventh day. God had already given them an abundance, and they needed to use that abundance to enjoy the rest that God wanted them to have.
Maybe, just maybe, this latest snowstorm can be seen in the same way. No, I don’t think God caused the snowstorm so we would have to take time off; but I do think maybe God wants us to use the opportunity of this snowstorm to consider how we rest. Do we view Sabbath as an opportunity to relax and enjoy the life God has given us? Do we intentionally take time to rest and appreciate the gift we have received? Do we revel in the blessing of being a child of God, freed from the idols of this world, including work and money and material possessions? If we can’t honestly say yes, then maybe we need a few more snow days of Sabbath.