My family and I have just returned from Phoenix, Arizona where we visited my brother Aaron, his wife Christina, and their son Asher for a few days. The trip was a fantastic time of family togetherness. Though much happened over the 4 days we were there, one significant moment impacted me perhaps more than the rest of the trip. This moment was the family celebration of Shabbat (Sabbath).
We were brought up as good little protestants, my brother and I. Dad was (and still is) a pastor in the Methodist church (and a couple of others). As such, we never celebrated the Jewish feasts, we never talked about the Torah, outside of the Ten Commandments, and we certainly never celebrated Sabbath (Incidentally one of the 10). Instead we did as most Evangelicals, and made Sunday our day of worship and rest – although rest was only guaranteed if there was no pressing work to be done.
Now, I don’t say all of this to start some big discussion about Torah and its applicability to the lives of Christians. Those of you who know me know that I am earnestly seeking answers to why we do and/or don’t do some of the things we do as Protestants. For those of you who don’t know me, I believe that we are justified by Faith in Jesus Christ, and no works can save us. However I also believe that true faith expresses itself in obedience to God and a desire to do good works (“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” – Ephesians 2:8-10).
That being said, I would like to briefly revisit our Shabbat celebration of last week. Though many observances are comanded in the Torah, none is so central to the life of a follower of Yahweh than that of Shabbat. The entire week is built around this day of rest, worship and reflection. According to the Law, the celebration is to begin at sundown on friday night, and end at sundown on saturday night. During this time, no “work” is to be performed by the household, and the time is consecrated to God.
As the day leading up to the Shabbat meal progressed, I could feel the excitement rising in me. I knew that this would be a time of fellowship, rest, and encounter with God. The aroma of Chalah bread filled the house, the table was set, and the meal prepared. Then, as we all sat down together, we took a moment to reflect on God’s blessings. We read Scripture and we prayed. Then we had a traditional time of blessing, where the head of the household speaks blessings over his wife, his children, and the guests. Next, the hostess gave her blessings, and we, as guests, were given the invitation to follow if we chose to do so. This time of blessing and praise touched me deeply, and filled a need that we have in our society – to have love shown openly and spoken audibly to us in the presence of others.
Jewish tradition then has a time where they celebrate the significance of bread and cup. As followers of Christ, this took on much greater significance as we celebrated communion in remembrance of Christ’s atoning sacrifice.
Following out time of communion we enjoyed our meal, had wonderful conversation, and played some games. And here is one of the best parts. When we woke up the next morning, there was no “business as usual” attitude in the home, but rather one of serenity and joy. We stayed indoors (outside it was around 115 degrees) playing games, talking, napping, and reading all day long. It wasn’t until sundown that we returned to our normal schedule – but we did so refreshed and ready for a new week. As Sunday worship rolled around, I felt such gratitude for the rest, that I was able to worshipped our Lord without the customary distractions of life weighing me down.
I know this has gotten a bit long winded, but I wanted to share this unique experience with you all. I know it is not something “we do” in the Evangelical church, but I am beginning to wonder if we have merely done ourselves a great injustice by excluding Shabbat as just another form of Judaizing. Christianity, though it professes to at least hold true to the Ten Commandments, has somehow managed to ignore the fact that Sabbath observance IS one of those commands.
So, what do you do when something is broken? Do you fix it? Do you pretend that it was never broken? Do you suggest that it functions better in a broken state?
I don’t know what this all means right now for me and my family. But I do know that I am starting to realize more and more that God may really have known what he was doing when he gave us commands to follow. And I am wondering how much joy we rob ourselves of in the never-ending attempt to proclaim our freedom from His Law?