Saturday, June 28, 2014

A gift, not an obligation

Continuing with the series of posts at Christianity Today, Michelle Van Loon contributes "The Jewish Roots of Christian Sabbath,":
Where I come from, Shabbat begins at dusk on Friday nights, and ends when the first three stars become visible on Saturday evening. The twenty-five or so hours from Friday evening through Saturday evening are meant to be a time of restorative rest and reconnection with God, family and faith community, I grew up in a fairly secular Jewish home in a predominately Jewish neighborhood, and understood that the Sabbath was a core part of our Jewish identity, even if few in our neighborhood observed it with any consistency. ....

When my family moved from the predominately Jewish enclave to a majority-Gentile community before I entered 8th grade, I discovered that Christians called Sunday the Sabbath, which was extremely confusing to me. How could there be two Sabbaths in a single week? I came to faith in Jesus during my high school years through the patient witness of a born-again friend. My parents forbade me from attending church as long as I lived under their roof, but as I began attending church after I left home, I heard a variety of explanations for Sabbath-on-Sunday: "It's the day our Lord was resurrected", "That whole Friday-Saturday thing is so Old Testament", "The Jewish Sabbath is a 7th-Day thing, and we Christians are 8th Day, resurrection people.", or, with a shrug, "In Christ, we're free from the Law, so we don't need to worry about keeping the Sabbath."

Preachers pointed to the way Jesus challenged those who were too tightly bound to legalistic ways of observing Shabbat (like this and this). Any conversation about the day of rest somehow turned into a Sabbath-versus-Jesus throwdown that Jesus always won. ....

.... When I read the New Testament, I saw Jesus and his Jewish followers participated in the Jewish feasts and joined their kin in synagogue on Shabbat. Jesus wasn't abolishing the Sabbath – he was asking his followers to engage more deeply in the meaning of the Sabbath as a time to celebrate our Creator, and connect him with the hope the Jewish people had carried for a Messiah who would come to usher in the new creation. He told his followers that he'd come to fulfill the Law, that he was Lord of the Sabbath.

But did this mean he intended us to swap out one day for the other? Or view Sabbath-keeping as an unplugged relic of a bygone era? ....

After my first trip to Israel six years ago, I caught a glimpse – a small one – of the delight Sabbath was meant to be for us. .... While there is legalism aplenty in the Orthodox Jewish community about the way in which Sabbath should be observed, there was also a sense of expectancy among the entire community that there would be space each week to reconnect with God and others. It was the first time I'd ever had the sense that Shabbat was indeed a gift instead of an obligation – a gift God wanted to give me each week.

To be honest, it's a gift I'm not entirely sure how to unwrap. I do know this much. I can no longer return it to the Giver unopened as I have for so many years. .... [more]