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"Freeing the Sabbath"

The floors were washed and waxed, furniture dusted and polished, clutter cleaned up, schoolwork put away, the aroma of tomorrow’s meals filled the senses. All work was done and now was a time to rest and relax. It was Friday evening, the sun had set and Sabbath had begun.

I grew up in a Seventh-day Adventist home where Sabbath-keeping was de rigour. It put us out of step with everyone else, and many of my peers disliked the restrictions but I have fond memories of those days.

“Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy.” “Holy” means set apart and as you read the fourth commandment (Exodus 20:8-11) you can see that no work was allowed—not even for the servants and slaves.

I attribute my love of God and knowledge of the Bible to the observation of the Sabbath as a child—at least in part. What child would not love an entire 24-hour period where no housework, no schoolwork, no work of any kind was allowed (though farm kids had chores to do—cows needed to be milked, for example, and animals needed to be fed)?

No work and nothing secular was allowed, including anything that involved the transaction of money. The books we read, the games we played, the music we listened to on that day was only Christian. Even the places we went were determined by this rule—time out in nature or at a park was encouraged, downtown, shopping malls and restaurants were not. Our home didn’t have a television but those families who had one, turned it off. This was a day to put everything aside except for God and to focus on him. Friday nights, especially, were special times of welcome peace and calm after a busy week.

Saturday mornings were reserved for church, followed by the noon meal (usually a full dinner) shared with others—whether at their home or ours or a potluck at the church. Sometimes the afternoon was spent napping. In one home we visited on occasion, the men and women would go to separate rooms, the women stripping from their Sabbath-best, down to their slips, and sleep for an hour or two. Other afternoons we’d visit nursing homes with our “Sunshine Bands,” singing and visiting the old folks.

Sabbaths ended with a vesper service that straddled the time of sunset—starting while it was still Sabbath and ending after the Sabbath was over. Here in Winnipeg, the sun sets sometime between 4:00 and 4:30 in the winter and, in the summer, between 9:30 and 10:00 (everyone had a sunset calendar for the year so we would know the exact time Sabbath began and ended) and the time of the evening service adjusted accordingly.

Saturday night was often a social evening with the church gathering in the school gymnasium for sports and games or some other form of entertainment.

I left the SDA church the year I was seventeen and began to attend a non-denominational church—the one I eventually raised my children in. There were a lot of differences and a major one was the change in the weekly rhythm of observing Sabbaths.

Paul, in Colossians 2:16, 17 writes:

So don’t let anyone condemn you for what you eat or drink, or for not celebrating certain holy days or new-moon ceremonies or Sabbaths. For these rules were only shadows of the real thing, Christ himself.

Throughout the New Testament, it is made clear that the outward forms of Judaism are not only not required, but a way of trying to work for one’s salvation that Paul repeatedly condemns. Still, the idea of setting one day aside for God is appealing to me—an escape from the rat race. Sunday is the day I keep and I try to ensure we have milk in the fridge and gas in the car beforehand so that such purchases on Sunday are unnecessary. My observation of the day is not as rigid as when I was growing up, but it is still a day to remember, a day to rest, a day for a greater focus on God.

God, thank you for caring so much about us that you released us from work, one day in every seven.

Do you observe a day of rest or are all your days packed with work, school, and other activity? If you do rest one day a week, what does that day look like for you? How is it different? If you’ve never done this before but would like to try it, what day would you choose? How would you spend that day?

The above post was prompted by a question in the chapter "Freeing the Sabbath" in Learning from Jesus: A Spiritual Formation Guide by Renovaré


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