Sabbath keeping is back in town after years of neglect. Jews have revered the seventh-day Sabbath for centuries, as did Christians for many years after Jesus’ resurrection. But the current passion for keeping a Sabbath isn’t only Jewish or Christian. You’ll find the Sabbath-for-everyone trend everywhere- from the pages of mainstream Christian magazines to the secular shelves of Borders.
Most Christians, however, have switched their “sabbath” to Sunday. And for most of them today, Sunday holds few religious demands beyond taking the kids to Sunday School and attending church. It’s also a day for shopping, watching football or taking the family to the movies. The original sense of the seventh-day Sabbath-keeping a God-ordained special day of rest-has largely been lost.
However, a recent bounty of books and articles shows that Sabbath keeping has made a comeback as an ancient antidote that relieves modern stress. Several years ago, Christianity Today ran an article entitled “Receiving the Day the Lord Has Made.” The author, Dorothy Bass, tells of a Saturday evening when she and a few teacher friends sat around a dinner table, bemoaning the piles of papers that needed grading the following day.
“That’s when it hit me,” Bass said. ” ‘Remember the Sabbath day, and keep it holy.’ This was a commandment, one of the 10 laws in the basic moral code of Christianity, Judaism and Western civilisation, and here we were, hatching plans to violate it. I could not imagine this group sitting around saying, ‘I’m planning to take God’s name in vain’; ‘I’m planning to commit adultery’; ‘I think I’ll steal something.’ “
This new wave of Sabbath literature claims that the modern world has cheated itself of a rich and important heritage. “We have not obeyed God’s commandment, we have not conformed our schedules to this fourth, most basic, rhythm of time, and the consequences have been serious,” writes Bonnie Thurston in her book, To Everything a Season: A Spirituality of Time.
Lauren Winner, formerly an Orthodox Jew, laments losing the Sabbath when she became a Christian. She writes, “I yearn, in my Christian incarnation, for the rigour of the Jewish Sabbath, a day truly set apart from the other six days of the week… . The Sabbath for Jews is far more than a bunch of restrictions.”
is Monday just as good?
All these works promote keeping a Sabbath, but they assume that the specific seventh-day Sabbath isn’t important. “Monday can be God’s day as well as Sunday,” writes Donna Schaper in her book Sabbath Keeping. “It is a question of perspective.” Christians may not need to return to the observance of the seventh day of the week as the Sabbath, adds Thurston. “But the concept of Sabbath… needs to be reclaimed by all people, for our own good.”
Is it really so foolish to think that God meant us to keep holy a specific length of time-the seventh-day Sabbath? Is it just ritual and habit that has led Orthodox Jews through the centuries to cling tenaciously to the actual seventh day of the week? Or have they understood something important about God’s commandment to keep the seventh day?
There’s plenty of biblical support for the concept that the particular day is important-specifically chosen by God for us to keep, and that just one day in seven won’t do. Is it possible that when the Bible says God made the seventh day special and blessed it, He actually did make the seventh day special and blessed it?
In our postmodern world, it’s increasingly acceptable to “construct your own truth.” It’s fine if something works for you. Just don’t prescribe it for everyone else. Most of these new writings lean in the direction of Sabbath keeping by convenience: design a form of Sabbath keeping around your own schedule.
But the historical, biblical, seventh-day Sabbath has always been a specific practice on a specific day for a specific purpose. The Bible says that God Himself ordained the seventh day and that it does matter when and how we keep it.
Chris Blake’s book Searching for a God to Love recommends seventh-day Sabbath keeping. “To commemorate His creation, God hallows-sets aside for a particular purpose-the seventh day,” writes Blake. “Followers of Judaism still honour the Sabbath as Joseph, Jesus and Paul of Tarsus kept it. Why don’t most Christians keep this Sabbath?”
Writing in the Los Altos, California, Town Crier, Joan Passarelli shares a variation on Blake’s call. Although she and her family continue to attend church on Sunday, they have discovered the benefit of keeping the seventh day as their Sabbath. “Sunday is not the Sabbath,” she says. “As the Jews and the Seventh-day Adventists remember, it’s Saturday that is the seventh day of the week, the day God rested, and the day we should too. I propose that we reclaim Saturday as the Sabbath and give ourselves the gift of freedom on that day.”
The recent rallying call to look again at Sabbath-keeping is an exciting first step in rediscovering the seventh-day Sabbath, which is an essential and practical part of God’s original plan for our spiritual health. If you’ve never tried it, why not begin this week-on Saturday, the Bible Sabbath?