March 18, 2021
“Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. 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 animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns.
For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day.” (Exodus 20:8-11)
One of our neighbors is a Swiss Jewish family. We were kindly invited to their daughter’s Bat-Mitzva, her coming-of-age celebration. The woman seated next to me gladly explained the proceedings. What really struck me, beside the fact that people stopped chatting only during the reading of the Torah (Jewish Bible), was the very detailed and practical rules contained in the Mishnah/Talmud (source of Jewish religious laws and theology) addressed to this young girl, now considered a woman, who would have to strictly follow them from now on.
You might wonder about the link between my Bat-Mitzva observations and this Lenten devotional on “Sabbath.” After consulting my neighbor on their Sabbath tradition, reading the Bible and researching the subject, it just comes to this: we are justified by faith, and not by following the Law and the Ten Commandments.
As following the Sabbath is one of the Ten Commandments, I asked my neighbor how they practice it. Shabbat is a day of rest. It starts at dusk on Friday when three stars are visible in the sky. They light two Sabbath candles, partake of bread and wine and the head of the family says a blessing. The Sabbath ends at dusk on Saturday with the Havdalah, the lighting of a special candle and blessings. Jews apply the Sabbath rules in varied degrees. Our neighbors respect the ritual described here above, have a wonderful Friday night family dinner and refrain from working on Saturdays, but other than that they act as usual. Some of their friends take the rules more strictly and literally; some don’t drive, use electronics, use the phone, write emails, go shopping, cook or even switch on the lights.
So, what is the Sabbath for me? Sabbath is on Sundays, it is the Lord’s day, a day for worship and rest. It is a day dedicated to my Lord, to deepening my faith and knowledge of the Word by attending worship services and Bible studies. Wherever we have lived, in Asia, South America or Europe, we were incredibly lucky to find an English-speaking interdenominational church and a wonderful international Christian community. To be part of a Christian community has always been essential to me. Even whilst living in Shanghai at a time when churches were prohibited, we met on Sundays and worshiped together.
Different interpretations, degrees of value, and differing application have been attributed to the Sabbath over the centuries by various Christian churches and denominations. We believe that the birth and death of our Savior, Jesus Christ, the very beloved Son of God our Father, gave us a new life and a new heart, and the Old Testament laws have lost their fatal threat (Exodus 31:14).