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Sabbath & Jubilee

Posted on 05 Sep 2021

September 5, 2021

Leviticus 25:1-12

Rev. Kristen J. Kleiman


Leviticus 25 might be some of the most important words in the Bible and yet, I have never heard a single person say to me “Oh, Kristen, you know what comforts my soul in hard times – Leviticus 25.” I know! It’s so surprising!

Seriously though, I would be completely surprised if anyone told me they had ever heard this passage. Please raise your hand or write me a comment if you have ever in your life heard this passage about sabbath and jubilee- or even heard either of these words?

In the very beginning of the book of Genesis, where we find the story of how God created the world and called everything good, there we also find the instruction to observe a Sabbath day once a week. Sabbath is rest, complete rest, down time, an opportunity to reset, recharge, play even. And I know without asking that we are all really bad at setting aside time for Sabbath, rest, and play.

Sabbath is not something we observe in our culture anymore, and it’s not because of youth sports or the blue laws going away and being able to shop whenever we want. It’s because we don’t value rest. We value work. We value productivity.

And so if our culture believes Sabbath, rest, sleep & play have no value, why would we observe a Sabbath for the land? Why would we encourage Sabbath and rest for anyone or anything?


Scripture tells us that we should rest one day out of seven, and we should let the land rest one year out of seven. We observe a “sabbath of complete rest for the land, [as] a sabbath for the Lord” (Leviticus 25:4). We do it to show that God is the ultimate owner of everything. We do it as a tangible reminder that we and this entire earth are God’s, God’s creation, in God’s keeping.

We observe Sabbath time as a reminder that we all belong to God. And it turns out that we need Sabbath time to survive. We need sleep, rest, and play to work and be productive.

In Stuart Brown’s book called simply Play, he writes:


Though we have been taught that play and work are each the other’s enemy, what I have found is that neither one can thrive without the other. We need newness of play, its sense of flow, and being in the moment. We need the sense of discovery and liveliness that it provides. (Play, Brown, pg 126)


Stuart also writes that the “the opposite of play is not work – the opposite of play is depression.” When we don’t take the time for rest and play, for Sabbath, our physical health suffers. Our spiritual health suffers. I love the way Stuart Brown puts it -without rest and play, “what is left is a dulled soul.” (Play, Brown, pg 126)


Even though we are often shamed out of it, sabbath time is not a want. It is a need. A biologic need; an emotional, spiritual need. A need for us, for our children, for the land, for every living creature. If we wait to play when we retire, we might never make it. If we wait to rest until we are dead, we might get our wish much sooner than we want.

If we want to be productive, have the land be productive, we all need to take a rest.


“It takes courage [though] to say yes to rest and play in a culture where exhaustion is seen as a status symbol.” I keep these words from Brene Brown on my desk for hopefully obvious reasons. “It takes courage to say yes to rest and play in a culture where exhaustion is seen as a status symbol.”

Sabbath takes courage – as does jubilee.

In my world, the only time I ever hear the word jubilee is in connection with dessert: cherries jubilee or that jubilee ice cream roll that comes out in New England at Christmas time.

Our English word for jubilee comes from a Latin word meaning “to shout for joy”. That definitely works when it comes to dessert, and it works for the Biblical jubilee year – a year set aside every seven times seven years as holy, a year in which liberty shall be proclaimed.

In addition to the liberty that comes with Sabbath, being freed from toiling over the land day after day, liberty is to be proclaimed to those who are slaves as well as those who have been cut off or cast out from their family’s lands. If we were to keep reading Leviticus 25, we would also hear that the jubilee year included a forgiveness of all debts.

The jubilee year is a year of rest and a year of reset, of returning to how God created the world to be – free to rest and play as well as work; free from all that enslaves us- debt, exhaustion, and fear. The jubilee year is one of liberty, of freedom to love God and love our neighbors.

It might not surprise you to learn that scholars are pretty sure that despite being instructed by God to observe this Sabbath year of all Sabbath years, this jubilee year of liberty, that the people never did it.

Because it takes courage to practice Sabbath and jubilee. It takes a lot of faith to trust that in the sixth year, the land will produce enough resources for two years. And it takes an enormous amount of faith to trust that if you free your slaves, if you return the property you have been farming to the original owner, that God will take care of you. God will indeed take care of you.

It takes a lot of courage and faith to live believing that God is the ultimate owner of everything and that God is the ultimate steward and caretaker of us and this world. A lot of courage and faith.

And yet when we don’t have that courage and faith, look at what the world and our lives look like. We go through our days exhausted, wondering ‘is this all there is?’ We accept this “dullness of our souls” and in turn overburden others with exhaustion, expecting our children and our neighbors and everyone else to work, work, work, and never pause to rest or play.

We overburden creation and then wonder where the wildfires and flooding and hurricanes and COVID and west nile virus and Eastern equine encephalitis come from.


It takes a lot of faith and courage to listen to God and observe Sabbath and jubilee, and here is where we go back to the beginning of this worship series on compassion and loving-kindness.

If we are to follow the guiding principle of our faith, if we are to love God and love our neighbors as Jesus instructs us to, first, we need to love ourselves. We need to have compassion and loving-kindness for ourselves. We need to prioritize rest and play, creativity and compassion because then we are living out of our best selves; then we have loving-kindness to share, loving-kindness for our families, our friends, our neighbors, the stranger; compassion and loving-kindness for God’s creation and our world.

When we practice Sabbath, when we are well rested, playful, joyous, when we have the courage to trust in God, we are able to shout for joy and share God’s compassion and loving-kindness with all – just as Jesus invites us to.