Honor the Sabbath and keep it holy has become synonymous with the understanding that it is the one commandment out of the Ten Commandments that does not have to be followed by Christians today. How it ever received this specific designation isn’t exactly clear, and isn’t typically taught, it’s just an unwritten rule in most churches. Different passages are often mentioned to do away with Sabbath observance. Jesus’s statement “the sabbath was made for man, not man for the sabbath” is one. Paul’s admonition in Romans 14 about holy days and personal choice in observing them is another. The historical argument is that the early church met on Sunday, not Saturday. And some will even quote (out of context) that the old law was nailed to the cross as a reason not to observe Sabbath.
Personally, I’ve never observed Sabbath on a regular basis and don’t believe Christians are commanded to do so. However, I have been blessed over the last couple of years to develop a friendship with a practicing Rabbinic Jew and his own practice of Sabbath, among other things, has been a real blessing to me and has caused me to reevaluate my own understandings.
In reality, Sabbath is so much bigger than just taking a day off of work and even spending time in rest and relaxation. And it’s even more important than just as a reminder that God is involved in every aspect of life. Those are good reasons and blessings from Sabbath, but there are theological reasons as well, basic tenants of faith that ground us in an understanding of who God is in the world.
Sabbath is a belief in the truth of a different reality Sabbath observance in many ways is a declaration of faith in Jehovah God and a rejection of all other gods, worldviews, and religions. For Israel, no other community around them was taking a day off of work each week for rest. There were many times when Israel was not an independent state, they were controlled by another government, yet they still observed sabbath. By doing so they were declaring that the government or power over them was not the ultimate authority, God was. Even today, in our time of efficient productivity and demands, it is a way to say that there are other things more important than perceived cultural demands.
Sabbath is an announcement that the world is safely in God’s hands A truth that we all need to learn is that the world will go on without us, we are not essential for the world’s survival. Current culture demands constant production. Feverish activity and securing our own financial security are honored traits. Taking a day off work means lost time, lost money, lost productivity, and it may even mean someone else can do our job better than we can. But the observance of sabbath rest breaks us form the our efforts to achieve and secure ourselves, and reminds us that not only is the world in God’s control but our own lives are in God’s control. God can run things without us.
Sabbath is a day of revolutionary equality in society Especially when practiced in community Sabbath forces us to end exploitation and grasping for power and control. Once a week equality is discovered because all are called to rest. Rich, poor, young, old, those in power and those in need, all must take time off of work and rest with the Creator. Obviously the world has not fully lived into this reality yet, but this notion of revolutionary equality is a tenant of the Kingdom of God, where all have equal access to God and all are accepted the same; Jew, Gentile, slave, free, male, female. Practicing the Sabbath allows the community to witness to this coming reality.
In many ways practicing Sabbath is a prayer. It is a prayer of anticipation for a new reality. It is a prayer of longing for God’s promise of rest to be realized in full. It is a prayer of witness that God is in control and he holds all things in His hands.
Again, I don’t believe one has to practice Sabbath to be a faithful follower of Jesus Christ. But for all of the benefits and all that it means, maybe it is time we try to find ways to incorporate Sabbath into our lives. In so many ways we would be healthier for it.