Each Saturday, my husband and I do the work of keeping up a house and a home. While we believe that keeping Sabbath is important, every week there seems to be a small list of things that we push over to Sunday, things that didn't get finished on Saturday.
Lately, though, I've been thinking about the age-old tradition of Shabbat (the Jewish Sabbath): a day of rest, communion, and feasting, usually preceded by a day or two of busy, hectic work, with family members rushing around making final preparations for the Sabbath. When the sun sets, work stops. Period. And so Shabbat begins.
It's a restorative rhythm. I've been thinking about this time of preparation and rest, and also my own leniency when it comes to how I observe it.
Throughout the Old Testament, the Sabbath is mentioned again and again, right from the beginning of Genesis:
By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done (Genesis 2:2).
Keeping Sabbath is so important to God that he included it (the only ritual mentioned) in the ten commandments: "Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy" (Exodus 20:8). He commanded Moses to tell the Israelites that anyone who works on the Sabbath was to be put to death (Exodus 31:14).
I believe Sabbath is a creational norm. It's a life-giving pattern waiting to be rediscovered by a bustling humanity. We are hard-wired to function on a seven-day schedule, with six days of work and one of rest. While Jesus' life and death fulfilled the law (and so spared my life for making that delicious soup yesterday), he did not abolish it. He observed and loved the Sabbath.
The Jewish ritual of twenty-four hours of rest, starting with the hard deadline of sundown, intrigues me. There is a sense of urgency in the preparations because, refreshingly, the option of pushing unfinished tasks to the next day is simply not there. The days leading up to Sunday are filled with work—checking each and every item off the list—but how sweet is the reward. The Sabbath becomes a gift, a day to be anticipated rather than a catch-all for the tasks not completed on Saturday. It becomes a day where there is actually both the time and energy to sit with loved ones, to eat slowly, to ponder those thoughts that need space to unravel, to take a nap or to read a book.
And, somehow, by doing all these "down-time" things, we're also properly setting the day apart.
It's freeing to know that while there are always things to be done, on one day each week those tasks must wait. At the end of the weekend, rather than feeling frazzled and exhausted, I can start the work week refreshed.
When the sun sets, work stops. And so Sabbath begins.