Sabbath, Jubilee, and Our 50th

by | Jul 10, 2017 | Reflections Blog | 0 comments

I had an “A-Ha” moment the other day. Or maybe it was more like a “Duh” moment. I’ll let you decide.

I was talking with a minister member about her six years of service on CPM.[1] I observed that by now she probably needed a rest. That is when I had my A-Ha: Six years and then a rest! Just like in the Bible!

The Sabbath Year

Most of you are probably familiar with the weekly rhythm of Sabbath-keeping. The Ten Commandments expect us to work six days and stop on the seventh, just as God did (Exodus 20:8-11; Deuteronomy 5:12-15).

But God’s command did not end with a weekly Sabbath. Exodus 23 speaks of a Sabbath of years: “For six years you shall sow your land and gather in its yield; but in the seventh year you shall let it rest and lie fallow, so that the poor of your people may eat; and what they leave the wild animals may eat. You shall do the same with your vineyard, and with your olive orchard” (vv. 10-11; see also Leviticus 25:1-7).

I have known of the Sabbath year for decades. I have known for even longer of the Book of Order’s six-year limit (see G-2.0404).[2] But only now did I make the connection. Just as God commanded the Israelites to let their land lie fallow, so too does Presbyterian polity summon us to take a break.

I have long argued that Presbyterian polity is grounded in Presbyterian theology, and that Presbyterian theology is grounded in Scripture. But it took until my beard turned gray to recognize the direct Biblical origins behind our rhythm of committee service.

The Year of Jubilee

The insights from CPM did not stop there, however. When I mentioned my discovery to another CPM member, she replied, “Then what about the Year of Jubilee?”

Leviticus 25:1-7 speaks of the Sabbath year just as Exodus 23 does. But it goes on to describe a Sabbath of Sabbaths—“seven weeks of years, seven times seven years, so that the period of seven weeks of years gives forty-nine years” (v. 8). After those forty-nine years, God said, the Israelites should celebrate.

This was no ordinary party. At the sound of the trumpet, Moses says,

…you shall hallow the fiftieth year and you shall proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants. It shall be a jubilee for you: you shall return, every one of you, to your property and every one of you to your family. That fiftieth year shall be a jubilee for you: you shall not sow, or reap the aftergrowth, or harvest the unpruned vines…[3]

In other words, imagine Thanksgiving weekend, except for a whole year. And imagine God providing enough to make such a year practical (vv. 18-22).

A Jubilee for Los Ranchos

Now, when the CPM member mentioned the Year of Jubilee, it struck me that we must be closing in on the Presbytery’s fiftieth anniversary. My instinct was right: Elvira found that Los Ranchos began at a Presbytery meeting on January 18, 1968. We will turn fifty next year.

And though I’m not imaginative enough to envision an event like that of the Jubilee Year, it does seem that we ought to celebrate.

So I’m extending an invitation, and I’m asking for help:

—What should a fiftieth anniversary party look like?
—Whom should we invite?
—What would need to happen for us to declare it a success?
—And, most of all: whom do you know who would enjoy helping plan such a party?

We will need to start planning soon. The right people are in your congregations; we just have to find them and unleash their enthusiasm. I really do hope we can pull this off.

For God has been faithful to us these fifty years. And if Scripture is to be believed, it is right, even commanded, for us to take a break and celebrate once in a while. Please send me names for a planning group—perhaps your own. (Contact Elvira)

Somewhere along the Way—


[1] CPM stands for the Committee on Preparation for Ministry, the committee tasked with guiding candidates through the process of becoming ordained pastors.

[2] “[N]o ruling elder or deacon shall be eligible to serve more than six consecutive years, and a ruling elder or deacon who has served six consecutive years shall be ineligible for election to the same board for at least one year.”

[3] Leviticus 25:10-11—but I would urge you to read all of chapters 25 and 26. Moses’s speech here lays out a dramatic vision of a very different economic system, one in which all property belongs to God and we are merely tenants (see 25:23).