A Return to Sabbath

I’m still working my way through Abba’s Child by Brennan Manning. In the most recent chapter I read, he talked about the spirit of the Pharisees and how that attacks our identity as Abba’s child. He had a lot of good things to say, but what struck me the most in the chapter was actually his description of the traditional Jewish Sabbath celebration.

Manning wrote that the Sabbath was meant, first and foremost, to be “a memorial of creation” (p.78), a remembrance of God creating the world and seeing that what He made was good. Isaiah referred to it as “a day of delight” where “fasting and mourning were forbidden. Special festive white clothes were to be worn and joyous music was to permeate the Sabbath observance” (p.79). It was a day to rejoice in what God has made and also a day to remember that we owe our lives to the Creator. “The Sabbath was a solemn recognition that God had sovereign rights, a public act of appropriation wherein the believing community acknowledged that they owed their life and being to Another. As the memorial day of creation, the Sabbath meant a worship of adoration and thanksgiving for all God’s goodness, for all the Jews were and had” (p. 78). For Christians, this Sabbath remembrance also foreshadowed our celebration of the resurrection each Sunday where we remember our re-creation in Christ through His death and resurrection. In all this, “worship remained the essential element of the Sabbath celebration” (p. 78).

Manning also points out that as we remember our Creator, we re-focus our perspective on our lives. He writes: “A rest from preoccupation with money, pleasure, and all creature comforts meant getting a proper perspective in relation to the Creator. On the Sabbath, Jews reflected and put the events of the past week in a larger context of saying to God: ‘You are the true Ruler, I am but Your steward.’ The Sabbath was a day of rigorous honesty and careful contemplation, a day of taking stock, examining the direction of life, and rooting oneself anew in God. The Jew on the Sabbath learned to pray: ‘Our hearts are restless all week, until today they rest again in Thee.’” (p. 78). The Sabbath was also a memorial of the covenant between God and His people, a day for the people to renew their dedication to His service and rejoice anew in the promises of God: “‘If you obey my voice and hold fast to my covenant you of all the nations shall be my very own for al the earth is mine. I will count you a kingdom of priests, a consecrated nation’ (Exodus 19:5-6).” (p. 78).

But what was most interesting to me was how Manning tied Sabbath observance to the health and stability of a family. He even goes so far as to say that “the Sabbath is considered the chief foundation of the remarkably stable home life and close family spirit that has characterized orthodox Jews through the centuries. All the members of the family were to be present along with invited guests, especially the poor, strangers, or travelers.” (p.79). He goes on to describe the Sabbath celebration: “The Sabbath celebration started at sundown Friday with the mother of the family ceremonially lighting the candles. Then the father, after saying grace over a cup of wine, laid his hand on the head of each of his children and solemnly blessed them with a personal prayer.” He said this practice of blessing the family every Sabbath helped make the home “a miniature sanctuary in which the parents were he priests and the family table was the altar.” (p. 79).

He went on to use this observance of the Sabbath as an example of how a religious spirit makes “primary matters secondary and secondary matters primary” (p. 80), in this case by the Pharisees emphasizing the need to refrain from work on the Sabbath rather than focusing on the heart of what the celebration was supposed to be. But I was really captivated by his picture of the heart of what Sabbath was meant to be.

I’m captivated by this picture of a family coming together – and opening their doors and hearts to others to join in – to joyfully celebrate the goodness of God, His goodness in His creation, in His enduring covenant with His people, and in His new creation of us through Jesus, and to reflect on and refocus their lives in light of that. I want to practice Sabbath like this in my life, not just observing a day of rest, but learning to rest in the goodness and faithfulness of God, weekly celebrating that truth, and learning to re-orient my life according to it.

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  1. As a former Seventh-Day Adventist I recognize much of Manning’s description as the reasons that I cherished each Sabbath (Saturday). I think, from time to time, that maybe I should revisit that direction for my life, but, I also think that a more general principle can be learned from Manning’s focus on the Sabbath. Our lives need time set aside solely for reflection, focus, and celebration of God in our lives, but, we need it on a daily basis through devotion, prayer, and focus and not just once a week.

  2. Thanks for the comment. And for the reminder that we need to set aside time for this each day, not just each week. I think there’s definitely a place for setting aside a whole day for those things, but I agree that it’s equally vital to set aside that “quiet time” each day, too.


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