I grew up hating Sundays. (My poor mom is probably feeling all guilty about that now. Sorry, mom.)
Sunday was church day. It was “the Lord’s Day”, and we were supposed to honor God by getting dressed up, sitting through tedious (to me) sermons, singing some dreary songs, spending the afternoon quietly resting (impossible for us kids), and then enduring another church service in the evening. And, seemingly all too often, the day ended with an after-service scolding for bad behavior during church. I couldn’t wait for Monday to roll around again.
Somehow we got the impression that Sunday was reserved for somber activity. It was not to be profaned. It even had one of the big 10 Commandments protecting it. It wasn’t until I got to spend a lot of time with Jewish friends that I discovered the heart of the Sabbath.
Okay, first, let’s dispense with the academics. Yeah, Sunday is not technically the Sabbath. Saturday is. So, can we Christians get off our high horse about protecting the “holy day” considering we’ve even got the wrong day? And “the Lord’s Day” does not mean the day belongs to the Lord — everyday belongs to the Lord. That term came into use during the earliest days of the Church to commemorate the day Jesus was resurrected, and mostly among Gentile believers. Jesus’ first disciples were all Jewish, and they continued celebrating the Sabbath on Saturday like Jesus had done.
Honestly, though, I don’t think God is terribly concerned about the correctness of the day. He is more concerned that we honor its purpose and intent. That we take a much-needed break from doing our normally scheduled routine, that “sweat of the brow” stuff, and use the day to re-energize, relax, enjoy some peace, get back in touch with real priorities in life, and even renew our connection with him. It’s a day when we’re not preoccupied with everyday chores and concerns. So, with that in mind, here’s a little gift of liberty to my hard-working friends: if you can’t take off work every Sunday (or Saturday), use whatever day you do have off as your Sabbath. Going to church or temple is not a requirement of the day; it’s just a perk.
And here’s another key distinction: the Sabbath is for “celebrating”, not sitting around, “quietly resting” as though we were in mourning. My Jewish friends would gather for a huge Friday night dinner (Shabbat begins sundown Friday and ends sundown Saturday). Fresh flowers would be on the table. Candles would be lit. There’d be prayer, thanking God for the food and for the gift of the Sabbath, recognizing how he sanctified it, setting it apart, for special use. And then there’d be wine, and good food, laughter, talking, enjoying each other’s company, and maybe even dancing. We “honored” the Sabbath by celebrating it as a holiday. So much so, in fact, that it’s tradition to eat three festive meals during the day. It is a gift from God for our enjoyment. As Jesus himself reminded us, “Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath” (Mk 2:27).
Sure, there are some restrictions on the day. That’s part of its purpose. My religiously observant friends wouldn’t drive on the Sabbath. They wouldn’t cook — that’s work, so all meal preparations were done the day before so we could just enjoy the day. Some of them wouldn’t watch TV or carry things. As a Christian embracing liberty as my spiritual right, I sometimes found some of their personal choices a bit over the top, but that was their way of ensuring they reaped the full benefit of the peace of the day. “Shabbat Shalom”, the blessing spoken to each other, is a hope and a prayer that we would find sufficient grace and peace to restore us and equip us for the coming week. And that, I firmly believe, is what is in the heart of God when he instructed us to “keep the Sabbath”.
It’s not about being quiet. It’s not about whether you watch football on TV or go to the movies on this holy day. And (sorry, Pastor), it’s not even about whether you make it to church or synagogue. It’s about taking time off to gather together, enjoy each other, and enjoy God in our company (that’s where church fellowship can be a special blessing). It’s about recognizing this amazing gift of grace given to us — a day every week when we can shift gears, slow down, reconnect, and celebrate life. God planned it that way from the beginning. And not just for my Jewish friends. For all of us — it was given to Adam and Eve before there was any such thing as Jew or non-Jew. It’s our birthright as humans, for anyone who will receive it as part of God’s design for us.
“If you keep your feet from breaking the Sabbath, … if you call the Sabbath a delight, and the LORD’s holy day honorable, … then you will find your joy in the LORD …”, the prophet Isaiah tells us (Isa 58:13-14).
It’s about joy. It’s about rest and reconnecting. It’s a celebration of life. The Sabbath is a “delight”! And we should treat as such.
So … Shabbat Shalom, everybody. May whatever day you choose as your Sabbath be one of joy and refreshment, family and friends, good food and fellowship. It’s your inheritance from God. Enjoy it.