During my semester in Israel the Sabbath was really something. Jersusalem shut down, and everyone went home for the shabbat meal. One Rabbi opened his home to our motley band of Gentile college students. I’ll never forget those meals with their festive, but holy mood. There was a joy to the gathering that I’ve never experienced in a religious setting. So much for America’s austere Protestantism.
Since then I don’t know what to do with the Sabbath. I think the extreme Jewish regulations against walking, turning off the lights, etc. are all overboard. If you have to install lights and appliances that need to be on a Sabbath timer, then I think religion has gone too far.
Nevertheless, even with the excessive restrictions, there was a very restful atmosphere that pervaded each Saturday morning and afternoon in Israel. No one else was working, so I easily slipped into that routine. You don’t have to do a lot of convincing when it comes to college students and slacking off. But I’m off topic now.
What does the Sabbath mean for today? Rejoicing. Worshiping. Resting. That’s a start. I can’t help thinking that any approach to the Sabbath from the side of rules and regulations really misses the point. That’s where some branches of Judaism seem to go off track.
A day off from work and the daily routine is gift to celebrate. A day to worship God without distraction is even better. And yet we approach it with a list of “no’s” instead of the “yes” that comes from Jesus.
The Sabbath isn’t a day that prohibits work, it’s a day that we don’t have to work because we are free to worship God. Jesus tried to snap us out of our hollow rules and legalism; the Sabbath is for man, not man for the Sabbath. God commanded it because he wants to bless us, not to ruin our fun one day per week.
What would a holy celebration on the Sabbath look like? That’s where I want to be.