Remember the Sabbath

by Rev. Terrence J. Mulkerin

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On Mount Sinai God gave Moses the Commandment, “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.” (Exodus 20:8-10) Ever since, the relationship between God and the Jewish People has been intertwined with the observance of the Sabbath.

The word of God is the story of His Covenant with mankind. The Bible focuses on what He asks of human beings, and on their response to Him. In God’s name, the Prophet Isaiah promised, “…everyone who keeps the Sabbath, and does not profane it, and holds fast My Covenant – these I will bring to My holy mountain and make them joyful in My house of prayer…” (Isaiah 56:6-7)

The Hebrew Scriptures give two reasons for keeping the seventh day holy. The Sabbath is a reminder of God the Creator. The Sabbath is a remembrance of God the Deliverer.

In the Bible, the Sabbath signifies the power that the Lord has over the world He created out of nothing. “The seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God; in it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, or your manservant, or your maidservant, or your cattle, 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 seventh day and hallowed it.” (Exodus 20:8-11)

In the Old Testament, the events of Exodus recall that the Lord’s Day symbolizes the Covenant between God and the People He delivered out of bondage. “You shall remember that you were a servant in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God brought you thence with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm; therefore the Lord your God commanded you to keep the Sabbath day.” (Deuteronomy 5:15)

Observing the Sabbath rest was so strict an obligation that God provided a double portion of manna to the Jews in the desert on the sixth day of the week. Otherwise, they would have had to labor on the Sabbath to collect their food.

The earliest prohibition of labor on the Sabbath was the command: “…you shall kindle no fire in all your habitations on the Sabbath day.” (Exodus 35:3) Rabbinic law eventually distinguished thirty-nine types of actions that violate the Sabbath. Popular Christian thought tends to restrict the meaning of the Sabbath to prohibitions against working, but Jewish thought considers Sabbath observance as a positive, even a mystical experience. The Sabbath is more than a fast from labor; it is a festive celebration of the things of God.

Sabbath observance takes up the whole of the day, not just the time spent in worship in the synagogue. The Prophet Isaiah calls the Sabbath “a delight.” For medieval Jewish mystics, the Sabbath is a bride for the soul of man. For contemporary Jews, the end of the day is like the departure of a Queen.

Regular Sabbath services did not become part of synagogue life until the Roman army under Titus destroyed the Temple in Jerusalem in 70 A.D. Although synagogues existed in Jerusalem before then, it was customary to visit the Temple on the Sabbath to hear the reading of the Law.

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Tags: Prayers/Hymns/Saints Reflections/Inspirational