“You have six days each week for your ordinary work, but the seventh day must be a Sabbath day of complete rest, a holy day dedicated to the LORD. Anyone who works on the Sabbath must be put to death. The people of Israel must keep the Sabbath day by observing it from generation to generation. This is a covenant obligation for all time. It is a permanent sign of my covenant with the people of Israel. For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, but on the seventh day he stopped working and was refreshed.” Exodus 31:15-17
I have tried and tried to wrap my head and heart around what Sabbath means. I have read numerous devotional writings, books, studied spiritual disciplines and more…yet still feel as though I fall short in understanding the intent and purpose of the Sabbath. I am sure I fail to understand the Sabbath as God had intended it. My history, experience, and family of origin have predisposed me to understanding the Sabbath as a ritual day; an act of religion and tradition that is often worshipped more than (and over) the Creator who sanctified the day and gave it to us in the first place. In my life, Sabbath was equal to the weekday, Sunday. In the strictest sense of the word, there was no greater significance placed on Sabbath except for the idea that it was a good day to go to church. There was no holy reverence for the day; there was no sacred anticipation of its arrival. Until recently (the past couple years), I had never set out to explore the truest understanding of Sabbath, and by this I mean what God has intended.
I have felt an increasing pressure on my heart about observing, as a way of life, the Sabbath. I admit and confess that I have failed to do this faithfully. Truth be told, even when Holy Spirit began to impress upon me the importance of living Shabbat, I failed. I made a resolution a year ago to begin observing Sabbath in my life; six months later I had not implemented any steps in my living to make allowance for this gift from God and resolved to take measures at that time to live with Sabbath as a part of my life. Now, I find myself six months later again…still with a meager, half-hearted, hit-or-miss approach to living with Sabbath as part of my life rhythm. I would like to blame society or western culture for this, maybe even attribute culpability to my upbringing and ignorance…but I am the one who is responsible.
I have learned much over the past year regarding Sabbath, but head knowledge won’t change a heart or my life. I mentioned reading a number of books and devotional writings over the last year or so regarding Sabbath, but one in particular is bringing to light a different understanding for me. The Sabbath, by Abraham Joshua Heschel, has stirred my soul and created a longing for Shabbat like no other reading on the topic yet. I want to fall in love with Sabbath and honor it as the gift of time and eternity for which God created it.
Let me share a few words about the book by Rabbi Heschel; it is a wonderfully poetic writing. I’m unfamiliar with writing from the Jewish culture, at least on this level. I’ve read theologically, historically, as well as other commentary on my Judeo-Christian faith, but I have never read anything written on the level of passionate romance and poetry as this little book. I am enamored with it; really. I want to understand, in my spirit, the romance of the Sabbath. I want to look forward to it as Rabbi Heschel describes in similar fashion, the groom who passionately anticipates the coming of his bride. While there are many wonderful word pictures in this book, I wanted to share with you a few that have really touched me and given me inspiration to seek the Sabbath as God intended for my life.
“It is incumbent on every man to be very, very zealous in making the Sabbath day preparations, to be prompt and diligent as a man who has heard that the queen is coming to lodge at his house, or that the bride and her entire entourage are coming to his home. What would such a man do? He would rejoice greatly and exclaim: ‘What a great honor they do me by their coming to dwell under my roof!’ He would say to his servants: ‘Arrange the house, clean and tidy it, and prepare the beds in honor of the arrival, and I will go to purchase the bread, meat and fish-whatever I can obtain in their honor.’ Such a man will busy himself in the preparation of the Sabbath food, even though he have a thousand servants.
When all work is brought to a standstill, the candles are lit. Just as creation began with the word, ‘Let there be light!’ so does the celebration of creation begin with the kindling of lights. It is the woman who ushers in the joy and sets up the most exquisite symbol, light, to dominate the atmosphere of the home.
And the world becomes a place of rest. An hour arrives like a guide, and raises our minds above accustomed thoughts. People assemble to welcome the wonder of the seventh day, while the Sabbath sends out its presence over the fields, into our homes, into our hearts. It is a moment of resurrection of the dormant spirit in our souls.
Refreshed and renewed, attired in festive garments, with candles nodding dreamily to unutterable expectations, to intuitions of eternity, some of us are overcome with a feeling, as if almost all they would say would be like a veil. There is not enough grandeur in our souls to be able to unravel in words the knot of time and eternity. One should like to sing of all men, for all generations. Some people chant the greatest of all songs: The Song of Songs. What ancient attachment, what an accumulation of soul is flowing in their chant! It is a chant of love for God, a song of passion, nostalgia and tender apology.” The Sabbath pp. 65-67
Once more, I am resolving to put Sabbath into my life. This time though, I am incorporating some measures that will help me to succeed. I have a new determination and will seek the Lord with a hunger for understanding of all that Sabbath should be for Him and for me…as we share time and eternity together. I realize that each day should be spent “practicing the Presence,” but there seems something especially exciting and special when I consider “Date Night with God.”