Friday, April 4, 2008

The Sabbath: A Royal Delight

by Jo Ann Davidson

As a fourth-generation Seventh-day Adventist, I have had great appreciation for the Sabbath as a student, and now as a wife and mother. This affection for the Sabbath increased impressively when our family had the privilege of living in Israel and I became aware of the profound love of the Sabbath that the Jewish people express. After all, four generations of Sabbath-keeping in my family is nothing compared with the thousands of years that the Jewish people have been celebrating the glory of the Sabbath. Through their influence, even the preparation for the Sabbath on Friday has come to have a special joy. I resonated with their suggestion that the Sabbath starts coming in all Friday afternoon, and by sundown it is all here. Even this expression helped to enhance the anticipation for Sabbath’s royal arrival.

Right at sunset, Jewish families gather to enter sacred time together. The mother lights the Sabbath candles and prays a blessing over her family. The husband blesses his wife, reading or singing to her from Song of Songs or Proverbs 31:10 and following, reminding his wife of his appreciation and affection for her. The wife blesses her husband with the words of Psalm 112 and expresses her joy in his large affections. The father then prays a blessing on the children, while surrounding them with his arms or by placing his hands on their shoulders or head. Every Friday night as the Sabbath begins, after a busy week of complex schedules and work patterns, the family leaves that all behind and renews their family bonds. Deeply moved by exposure to these centuries-old traditions, I grew in the awareness that the Sabbath is much more than not Sunday! And I came to welcome its arrival with much more joy!

All week long, one continually juggles unrelenting responsibilities and demands of work. Time almost becomes an “enemy” as deadlines and obligations keep piling up. Yet, though Friday presents additional tasks to prepare for the Sabbath, these are blessedly different, for they remind me that Sabbath is just ahead, a day when I can luxuriate in time rather than fight it. Instead of being chained to a busy, demanding routine, I will soon be able to break loose and breathe freely again. I like the way Francine Klagsbrun states it: “The freedom of Shabbat comes from the potential it holds to control time, perhaps the most far reaching form of freedom anyone can experience.”[1]

The Sabbath also reminds me of my origin from the hand of God Himself, and that He has bid me and all His human children to celebrate His grand creation with Him (Exod 20:8-11). Thus the preparations for Sabbath take on a remarkable flavor of preparing for the “royal delight” of the Sabbath—as God Himself expresses it in Isaiah 58:13. The house is readied, the meals are prepared, and aromas of favorite foods fill the rooms, reminding the whole family that the Sabbath is nearly here. Not just any dishes on the table will do in this “Palace in Time.” Only our best china and crystal, along with fresh flowers and candlelight, would be elegant enough to capture the regal nature of the glorious Sabbath hours.

And then, right before sundown, the phone is turned off, so its incessant ringing, which is necessary all week, cannot interrupt the peaceful atmosphere of Sabbath time, as God draws near and fulfills His promise to dwell with us. Sabbath candles are lit and shed their golden ambiance. And our family gathers to again renew warm fellowship that is so hard to come by during a busy week.

Thus, each week of work ends with a magnificent climax. Sabbath is more than a day to collapse and recuperate. Rather it is the zenith of living. It is the gift of our Creator to this weary world: the opportunity to enter His royal “palace in time,” as the renowned Jewish author Abraham Heschel describes it.[2]

God has also promised to restore the resplendence of the original Eden at the end of time. Thus, each royal Sabbath, coming at the end of six days of work, becomes a welcome weekly foretaste of heaven itself. In fact, Ellen White reminds us that all we have left from the Garden of Eden is marriage and the Sabbath. And each Friday evening, as the Sabbath begins, God draws us back to the Garden of Eden to bask in the initial gifts He gave to humanity.[3]

I had always thought that the Sabbath was something I did for God. But I am learning that the Sabbath is much more than thinking about what I cannot or should not do. Rather, it is an extraordinary gift of hallowed time from my Creator. My work will never be done. But every Sabbath I can cease worrying about my work and all the clamor to get things done during the past six days, and rest in God’s “finished work.” I can truly rest because the “government is upon His shoulders” (Isaiah 9:6). Think of the radical declaration the seventh-day Sabbath proclaims. God “commands a blessing!” He doesn’t want us to work incessantly, desiring that we rest a seventh of our lives! As a “creation ordinance,” it comes anew each week to all mankind. When the “Lord of the Sabbath” later walked on earth, He reminded us again that “the Sabbath was made for man” (Mark 2:27). Perhaps Adventists have been slow to recognize the tones of tenderness in God’s voice as He extends His Sabbath invitation.

[1] Francine Klagsbrun, The Fourth Commandment: Remember the Sabbath Day (New York: Harmony Books, 2002), 38.

[2] See Abraham Heschel, The Sabbath (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2005),12-24.

[3] “There were two institutions founded in Eden that were not lost in the fall,—the Sabbath and the marriage relation. These were carried by man beyond the gates of paradise. He who loves and observes the Sabbath, and maintains the purity of the marriage institution, thereby proves himself the friend of man and the friend of God” (Ellen White, “The Creation Sabbath,” The Signs of the Times, February 28, 1884, par. 11). See also: “The Sabbath commandment is placed in the midst of the Decalogue, and it was instituted in Eden at the same time that God instituted the marriage relation. God gave the Sabbath as a memorial of his creative power and works, ‘for in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day; wherefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day, and hallowed it.’ He made its observance obligatory upon man, in order that he might contemplate the works of God, dwell upon his goodness, his mercy, and love, and through nature look up to nature's God. If man had always observed the Sabbath, there would never have been an unbeliever, an infidel, or an atheist in the world” (Idem., “The Test of Loyalty,” The Signs of the Times, February 13, 1896 par. 7).

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