Shabbat candles, braided challah bread, prayer, family time. In Jewish communities, Sabbaths are truly set apart from the rest of the week. (Indeed, the Hebrew word for holy—as in, "Remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy"—means, literally, "set apart.") When I practiced Judaism, I'd begin my Sabbath with a relaxed Friday night dinner, followed by a day of worship, rest, and celebration. During the Sabbath day, I didn't think about my work, spend any money, ride in a car, or watch television.
Then I became a Christian. Although I went to church on Sunday mornings, the day never seemed quite as holy. As often as not, I wound up at the shopping mall on Sunday afternoon.
Of course, Christians aren't bound by Old Testament Sabbath directives. Twice in his epistles, the apostle Paul made it clear that Sabbath observance, like other external signs of piety, is insufficient for salvation. As he wrote to the Colossians, "Don't let anyone condemn you … for not celebrating certain holy days or new moon ceremonies or Sabbaths. For these rules are only shadows of the reality yet to come. And Christ himself is that reality" (Colossians 2:16-17).
And Jesus, when rebuked by the Pharisees for plucking grain from a field on the Sabbath, criticized those who made a fetish of Sabbath observance, insisting, "The Sabbath was made to meet the needs of the people, and not people to meet the requirements of the Sabbath" (Mark 2:27).
Turning Our Attention
But Jesus never said to forget the Sabbath completely. Keeping the Sabbath is one of the Ten Commandments, after all! And through the ages Christians have seen the wisdom of devoting one full day to rest and praise. There's an old Puritan saying, "Good Sabbaths make good Christians."1