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Earlier this summer, when I was visiting Israel, I had the amazing opportunity to be at the Western Wall as Shabbat (Sabbath) was coming in. As we arrived, the heat of the day was quickly dissipating and a palpable energy was humming in the air. The arrival of Shabbat was announced over a loud-speaker and suddenly, the entire place erupted with cheering, singing, and dancing. Great big dancing circles formed, pulling into its center tee-shirt wearing tourists visiting on birthright, ultra-orthodox with their tassels and perfectly curled sidelocks, and everyone in between. It reminded me of a wedding celebration or a concert.
Afterward a local Jewish family hosted our group for Shabbat dinner where we ate piles of challah bread and hummus, shared stories about our experience in Israel, toasted L’Chayim (to life), and talked and laughed for hours as the full moon lit the sky overhead. It is a memory that will forever be carved in my mind as one of the most blissful experiences of my life. It was also completely unexpected.
Whether implicitly or explicitly, I had somehow come to associate sabbath as one of those “rules” that we didn’t “need to follow” anymore because of Jesus. It was one of those nitpicky laws that Christians were granted freedom from with the death of Christ. But our hosts in Israel talked about how Shabbat was the great equalizer; everyone had a day of rest, regardless of age, race, gender, or socioeconomic status. Everyone in the whole country looked forward each week to a Sabbath evening spent with food, family, music, scripture, and love.
While I do believe that Christians are free from the yoke of the law, including the Sabbath, I also believe that Sabbath was given to the people of God as a gift. This concept of a day of rest was unheard of in the Ancient Near East, but the God of the Israelites wanted to remind his people that the God they served cared about their needs. It also served as a weekly reminder that they were dependent upon the Lord and that he would care for them. By Jesus’s time, the Pharisees and the Scribes had taken Sabbath and sucked the joy of out if. They had added restrictions and fought over what could or couldn’t be done to the slightest details and made it a burden rather than the gift that God had intended. And I am convinced that Sabbath is, indeed, a gift and that we need Sabbath now, more than ever. We need rest and renewal as much as we need to be reminded that God is the One in control, no matter how hard we might hustle to prove otherwise.
If you are interested in practicing Sabbath regularly, here are some ideas to help you get started. I personally follow the Jewish tradition of beginning Sabbath at sundown on Friday and ending at sundown on Saturday, but do what works best for you.
Keep in mind, this time is for you to rest and grow closer to God. Experiment week to week or month to month and find a rhythm that works best for you and your family. Enjoy the gift of rest that the Lord has blessed you with, and remember that you are worth so much more than what you accomplish each week.