It’s been said that if we forget the past, we are destined to repeat its mistakes. So I wonder what will happen in a culture focused on the here and now, a culture that proclaims anything not the latest and greatest is “so five minutes ago.”
I do a lot of teaching and writing on the ancient practice of Sabbath, which God told us to observe and remember. It was an important enough directive that it is included in the Ten Commandments. I’ve had people argue with me that because of Jesus, we are set free from the law, so we don’t need to practice Sabbath. While it is true that we are saved by grace and not by keeping the law, that doesn’t necessarily “prove” that Sabbath keeping is irrelevant, any more than salvation by grace demonstrates that any of the other commandments are irrelevant. Even if we are trusting Jesus for redemption, we still believe “don’t lie” and “don’t murder” are good rules to live by, and act accordingly.
We won’t earn God’s favor through rule-keeping, which actually has exciting implications for those who want to practice Sabbath. It sets us free from legalism, and allows us to enter into the heart of Sabbath rest—which is a picture of communion with God.
Sabbath began as a Jewish practice—and the roots of the Christian faith are firmly planted in Judiasm. When we understand and appreciate the common past we have with Jewish people, we come to understand our faith, and indeed Jesus, in a new way. We must understand the context of our faith.
In my book Rest: Living in Sabbath Simplicity, I wrote: “To observe Sabbath is to flatten social hierarchy. The Deuteronomy and Exodus commands have this in common: they both include a radically inclusive list of who is to be allowed rest on Sabbath: everyone. Men and women, children, servants, aliens (strangers, that is, non-Jews), even animals. The Deuteronomy account goes so far as to list a few specific animals for good measure.
“'Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your ox, your donkey or any of your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns, so that your male and female servants may rest, as you do'” (Deut. 5:13, 14 TNIV). It’s as if God expected us to look for loopholes, and wanted to make sure to close those off. It’s not just men who get a day off, but women too. It’s not just free people, but even slaves should have a day to rest. And don’t delegate your work to someone else, even your ox or your donkey.
This list sounds vaguely familiar, doesn’t it? Compare it to this list: “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28). God does not discriminate on the basis of gender, or race, or socio-economic status. All are invited, all are included. Jesus said “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28, emphasis mine). It’s not rest for some, but for all. It’s not rest for those who are spiritually superior, but anyone who is weary and burdened. And Jesus is not calling us to come to work, but to come to rest. Sabbath symbolizes the spiritual rest we find only in intimacy with Jesus.”
There are threads running through Sabbath that give it richer meaning. Just as the children of Israel kept Sabbath as a reminder of their being freed from slavery, we are freed from the slavery of sin. Just as Sabbath flattened social hierarchy, Jesus did as well. The two loaves of bread on the traditional Jewish Shabbat table represent the two portions of manna the Israelites would gather on the day before Sabbath. The practice reminds us of the past. But it also looks ahead. Our communion table, like the Sabbath table, is adorned with bread, candles and wine. The loaves also represent the ultimate sacrifice of the Lord of the Sabbath, who referred to himself as the bread of heaven. It’s one thing to see and appreciate the connections between the Old Testament and the New Testament. But when we actually take a day of rest, we live in those connections. We experience physical rest, and it deepens our understanding of spiritual rest.
Sabbath is a great gift. If we are willing to schedule our work on the other six days of the week, and leave one open to focus exclusively on loving God and loving others, we live in a kind of freedom and joy that defies explanation. I’m not saying we should only love God and others one day a week—we need to do that every day. And of course, we intend to. But we often end up focusing on tasks, not paying attention to the work of God, or the love others might give us, or receive from us. So Sabbath provides a chance to love with fewer distractions.
Keri Wyatt Kent is the author of several books including Rest: Living in Sabbath Simplicity and her most recent release Simple Compassion. She is a sought-after retreat leader and speaker. She and her husband, Scot, live with their son and daughter in Illinois. Learn more about Keri's ministry at www.keriwyattkent.com.