Observing the Sabbath

In the years since we have begun this Biblical living journey, we have struggled with exactly what Sabbath observance should look like. While Jewish customs and traditions abound on this subject, they are primarily traditions of men, albeit with rich significance and symbolism (see my post on Sabbath symbolism).

One of the early influences in our family  Sabbath observance came from a book called “Celebrating Biblical Feasts” by Martha Zimmerman. We found this to be a very helpful guide that explains the history of the biblical feasts, a Christian perspective of the feasts, and some practical ways to observe these days. For many years we would practice the “Welcoming of  Sabbath” with some of the traditions mentioned in this book. Rachel would bake challah (special Sabbath bread), we would light candles, review some Bible readings, and have prayers for the children. These traditions were directly based on traditional Jewish customs, but were modified for a Christian perspective. However, we would start and end Sabbath symbolically at 5:30 pm, regardless of the daylight/sunset, as a convenience for our dinner and family schedule.

We would then end our Sabbath observance on Saturday evening with a Christian variation of the traditional Jewish havdalah (separation) ceremony. This also involves more candle lighting (and extinguishing), short prayers, wine, and the aroma of “Sabbath spices”.

After several years of this practice, and recognizing them strictly as traditions and not actual Biblical commands, we became less faithful with our observance. As the kids were getting older, they began to have other commitments; sometimes I would abbreviate our observance; other times we did not prepare adequately and did not have challah, and other various discrepancies. It soon became apparent we were not being faithful to even our own new-found traditions. So we sat down with our younger girls and asked them if these traditions had meaning for them, since we seemed to be keeping them as object lessons only for the kids. Surprisingly, the kids said they had been keeping up just to please us because they thought we wanted to do them!

Clearly, we had reached a transition point. Since we did mention they were simply traditions and not actual commandments, and as the Bible doesn’t really have a step-by-step sequence of what to do on Sabbath, we asked them what they would like to see happen as a “start” for the Sabbath. They requested we keep the Sabbath candle (a decorative electric candle that we light only Sabbaths and stays on all night and day) and that we have lit candles with our Friday night dinner, as a way of making it separate from the other days of the week.

Our Sabbath candle dutifully reminds us of the special nature of the day.

To be honest, we still struggle with what to actually do on Sabbath, as we do not have a local congregation or like-minded group to gather and fellowship with. This has left us feeling isolated and remote, even though we live in a suburban area. However, everyone does look forward to sleeping in on Saturday mornings as long as they want! Mostly, I will study and read for a large portion of the morning (since I am typically up before everyone else), and then we will play some family games for most of the day. We do our best to stick to Sabbath basics: lots of rest, no buying or selling, a bible lesson. We also make it a point to stay off of social media, demonstrating that we can hang out as a family and play games or have discussions. We also now observe the beginning and ending of Sabbath on a more Biblical basis of local sundown, not symbolically at 5:30 as we used to do for our own convenience.

Other than participation in a “holy convocation,” (Lev. 23:3), the Bible doesn’t really specify just how to observe the Sabbath, but it is emphatic that it be observed as distinct, and set apart from the other days of the week. We try not to be overly legalistic about do’s and don’ts, recognizing that as Yeshua said: “the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath,” (Mark 2:27).

While we continue to seek others locally for fellowship and gathering-times on God’s set-apart days, having an un-plugged, family-based day has become a significant part of our lives. We certainly hope and pray that the biblical command to remember and keep guard over this unique day transfers to our children as they grow and perhaps begin families of their own.

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