Sabbath: Traditions vary widely among faith communities, but most observe some kind of sabbath tradition. In the dictionary the word means the seventh day of the week, Friday evening through Saturday morning, as the day of rest and religious observance among Jews and some Christians; Sunday has been referred to as the sabbath by most Christians. The first sabbath as shared in the Bible comes from Genesis 2, “Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them. And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation.
The command to follow the Sabbath is found in the fourth commandment in Exodus 20, “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.”
The first question which could be asked is, On what day does the Sabbath fall? Some would say the Sabbath obviously falls on Saturday, but that is not necessarily true, for while we see similar letters in the words Saturday and sabbath, they are not the same. Saturday is a Roman word which comes from Saturn the god of agriculture, after whom the sixth planet was named. This is Saturn’s day.
The Jews did not give names to the days, rather they numbered them. The Hebrew word for seven or seventh is sheba`. Again, the word looks the same, but it is not the same, it means the number seven and it also means to take an oath. The Jewish people do hold the Sabbath on the seventh day (which the Romans call Saturday) because God rested on the seventh day of creation.
The word Sabbath actually means to cease or to rest. That is exactly what God did on the seventh day, God ceased creating in order to rest. God gives an example of the concept of a Sabbath by his deliverance of manna in the wilderness. Six days per week the community goes out to gather the manna, on the sixth day receiving a double portion. But on the seventh day they are not to go out; they are to cease collecting and rest.
It follows, second question which could be asked is: What does it mean to do no work? The Jews debated this question a great deal, for the scripture allows some types of work on the Sabbath; also extra sacrifices are to be made on the Sabbath, thus creating extra work for the priests.
In their discussion, the Jewish Rabbis asked the question, “What did God cease from?” And they were able to answer the question, God ceased creating; therefore not all types of work are forbidden, only the work of creating, and in the Mishnah they listed 39 types of forbidden work.
A third question someone may ask, Is the only purpose of the Sabbath to make us cease from work? Deuteronomy 5:15 says to remember and observe the Sabbath day. The Sabbath is a time for communities of faith to come together to remember the acts of God and how they speak to us.
The way which people observe the Sabbath varies widely. To some the day means they should undertake absolutely no work. In the early days of the American colonies blue laws were passed to prohibit some types of work and retail sales on Sunday. Laws and rules have also been created stating how far a person can walk on the sabbath.
The final question we will ask is, “On what day is the Sabbath observed?” The common answer would be on Saturday or Sunday. The Jewish people have always celebrated the Sabbath every Friday at sunset through Saturday at dusk, or their seventh day. This celebration and observance is out of obedience to God and to remember the creation.
Many Christians meet together for worship on Sunday, which is the first day of the week. The reason for this observance is to commemorate the resurrection of Jesus from the grave. All four gospels specifically state the resurrection occurred on the first day of the week. 1 Corinthians 16:2 informs us that very early Christians worshipped on Sunday, the first day of the week. Because this is a day of worship, Christians have also taken this as a day of rest: their sabbath.
People of the Islamic faith also celebrate sabbath, but not as the Jewish people or Christians. For Muslims the Sabbath is a Friday observance when there is a mandatory call to special prayer, jumu’ah at the mosque at noon. Friday is the celebration of the creation of Adam on the sixth day, after that Allah rather than resting, “established Himself above the Throne.” (Qur’an 32:4)
Buddhists also observe a sabbath called Uposatha. This day, observed several times a month is for “the cleansing of the defiled mind”, which results in inner calm and joy. On Uposatha observers work harder to keep the five precepts and practice Buddha’s teachings and practices of meditation.
To conclude this article here would be to miss the entire point of the Sabbath. The Sabbath is not only a day or a set of rules or an observance. Sabbath is a gift from God. It is said sabbath is a day to cut the clutter of life to do something more meaningful. Sabbath is a day not only to attend worship (often by attending a service with a faith community),, but to relate to God. In Jewish literature sabbath is described as a bride or a queen. The hymn Lecha Dodi Likrat Kallah is sung at the opening of the Sabbath observance. The name means, come, my beloved, to meet the [Sabbath] bride.
Abraham Joshua Heschel in his book, The Sabbat said, “To gain control of the world of space is certainly one of our tasks. The danger begins when in gaining power in the realm of space we forfeit all aspirations in the realm of time. There is a realm of time where the goal is not to have but to be, not to own but to give, not to control but to share, not to subdue but to be in accord. Life goes wrong when the control of space, the acquisition of things of space, becomes our sole concern.”
Jesus would agree, for he uttered these words: “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.” (Mark 2:27)