Friday, March 13, 2009

Shabbat, Grandma! Shabbat!

Shabbat: to rest from labor

I love Grandma, but her Sunday religion used to tire me.

My Grandmother had a simple rule that was unspoken, but it was understood. Sunday meant you went to church. If the church doors were open, you were supposed to be there. There were no exceptions to this rule. Sunday was the Sabbath Day, which for her, and therefore us, meant you go to church and work hard for the Lord. You did not just go to church, but you were to be the first one there and the last one to leave. My Grandma gets up at 4:00am on a Sunday morning and her day is dedicated to church, all day, and then discipleship class all night. It is a marathon of a day. She unlocks the doors, prepares for the people to arrive, and when they leave she locks up and is the last one out, because this is what you are supposed to do. The woman is a saint, she does it all. Growing up and having to go to church with my grandparents, I always equated church with work.

Like I said, I love Grandma, but her religion makes me tired. It just seems like a lot of work.

In thinking about the Sabbath, I am wondering if Grandma and Jesus would see eye to eye on how to observe the Sabbath. As a matter of fact, Grandma and I have had, with mutual respect of course, this debate concerning the observance of the Sabbath many times. She does not always agree with my views, nor do I always agree with hers. I believe that the Sabbath is a day of rest that is different than any other day. It is set apart. It is Holy. It is a day that God has given us, or commanded us rather, to go “off the clock.” The Sabbath is a day of rest. It’s not just a Sunday. Sabbath helps us focus on the fact that God is God and that we are not God. Grandma would agree with me that the Sabbath is Holy and that she and I are not God, but she thinks that this is the day we should work hard for the Lord. My fatigue makes me disagree with this sometimes. I also wonder at times if Grandma even knows what rest is. Maybe working for the Lord is rest for her. If this is the case, I might be able to see eye to eye with her a little more.

According to Paul Achtemeier and the Harper’s Bible Dictionary, the word Sabbath (from Heb. Shabbat, ‘to cease, and desist’), is the weekly day of rest and abstention from work enjoined upon the Israelites. The origin of the word Sabbath, an etiological origin for the Sabbath is supplied in Gen. 2:1-3, which speaks of God Himself ceasing from the work of creation on the seventh day, blessing the day, and declaring it holy (Achtemeier). Jesus Himself, being both Jewish and God, observed the Sabbath. There are many accounts of Jesus withdrawing to solitary places to pray. These occurrences were not always on Saturday, the Jewish Sabbath, however. Jesus also chose to “work,” on the Sabbath, and healed, and allowed His disciples to pick grain and eat corn; one point for Grandma.

There is something about the Sabbath that seems to be less about the day as it is about a mindset of rest and ceasing work. Jesus seemed to be doing something more with Sabbath. As I mentioned before, the Jews celebrated the Sabbath on Saturday. The Bible Dictionary goes on to say, “Jesus’ claim to lordship over the Sabbath (Mark 2:28) was an important element in the hostility he aroused in those who felt that Sabbath traditions were incumbent on all Jews (e.g., Mark 3:6; John 5:18). Jesus’ attitude toward the Sabbath, coupled with the tradition that his resurrection occurred on the first day of the week (Sunday; cf. Matt. 28:1), meant that Sunday rather than the Sabbath (Saturday) became the chief liturgical day for Christians. ” This is two points for Grandma. So, we as Christians celebrate the Sabbath on Sunday. So who is right? The one who observes the Sabbath is my answer.

This is where I am realizing something about Grandma that you should know. She loves to travel and vacation, to work in her yard, to help people out, to go on walks, to visit the sick, to take naps, to watch her daytime television, to work in her garden, to read her newspaper before anyone else is awake and to sip her coffee, and when no one is looking, this Baptist dances the Charleston. Grandma does many other restful disciplines throughout the week as well. These disciplines seem to me, the more I think about it, to be just like Sabbath. I see her in a very different light than Sunday in these times.

I love the words of Jesus concerning the Sabbath in Mark chapter 2, verses 23-28:

“One Sabbath day he was walking through a field of ripe grain. As his disciples made a path, they pulled off heads of grain. The Pharisees told on them to Jesus: “Look, your disciples are breaking Sabbath rules!” Jesus said, “Really? Haven’t you ever read what David did when he was hungry, along with those who were with him? How he entered the sanctuary and ate fresh bread off the altar, with the Chief Priest Abiathar right there watching—holy bread that no one but priests were allowed to eat—and handed it out to his companions?” Then Jesus said, “The Sabbath was made to serve us; we weren’t made to serve the Sabbath. The Son of Man is no lackey to the Sabbath. He’s in charge!””

The implications of the Sabbath being created for man, not man for the Sabbath, are many. God Himself is in charge of the Sabbath and He has gifted it to serve us. This may even mean that Grandma and I are both right about the Sabbath. If the Sabbath is our day, if it is for us, then there seems to be some flexibility to it. Grandma must concede, and so must I. I don’t have any more right to impose my rules on her than she does imposing her rules on me concerning the Sabbath.

Part of stopping our working puts the focus on the provisions of God. God Himself has done the work and we can freely partake in His rest and His supply. We can stop and acknowledge His Lordship over us and our work. The grain is ours to pluck. The weary making religious rules and regulations of the law can be life giving and not burden producing to us. The one who is in charge of the law of Sabbath has given it to us for our enjoyment of His good graces. His life giving bread has been broken for our rest and nourishment. The Sabbath is not there for us to serve, but for us to be served. God is God and we are not.

In Matthew chapter 12 verses 9-12 the legalistic Pharisees, the religious leaders of the day, were seeking to accuse Jesus and to discredit Him by questioning Him about the Sabbath day when He had the opportunity to heal a cripple man’s hand on the Sabbath. This is how the story unfolded:

“Jesus left there and went into their synagogue, where there was a man with a crippled hand. They were looking for a reason to accuse Jesus, so they asked him, “Is it right to heal on the Sabbath day?” Jesus answered, “If any of you has a sheep, and it falls into a ditch on the Sabbath day, you will help it out of the ditch. Surely a human being is more important than a sheep. So it is lawful to do good things on the Sabbath day.” Then Jesus said to the man with the crippled hand, “Hold out your hand.” The man held out his hand, and it became well again, like the other hand. But the Pharisees left and made plans to kill Jesus. ”

As I look back over my Grandmother and I debating over the Sabbath, the reality becomes clear to me that I was that sheep in this story that Jesus told. My Grandma was getting me, and people like me, out of that pit on Sunday. I owe my Grandmother everything. If it were not for her and my Grandfather and their tireless service, I would have never been able to rest from my own labors as a lost sheep. I would still be working and striving to get out on my own. She led me to the Lord of the Sabbath. I cherish my Grandma’s faithfulness and example to me and the countless vacations that I drove them on when they were able to take their own Sabbaths.

Thank you Grandma!

May we all keep the Sabbath Holy and rest from our labors.



Achtemeier, Paul J. ; Harper & Row, Publishers ; Society of Biblical Literature: Harper's Bible Dictionary. 1st ed. San Francisco : Harper & Row, 1985, S. 888

The Everyday Bible : New Century Version. Nashville, TN. : Thomas Nelson, Inc., 2005, S. Mt 12:9-12

Greenberg, M. ‘Sabbath.’ Encyclopaedia Judaica. Vol. 14. Pp. 557-62.

Peterson, Eugene H.: The Message : The Bible in Contemporary Language. Colorado Springs, Colo. : NavPress, 2002, S. Mk 2:23-28

Porten, B. Archives from Elephantine. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1965. Pp. 122-33, 150, 173.

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