Jewish friends who are devoted keepers of the Sabbath, observe “Shabbat” from a few minutes before sunset on Friday until three stars appear in the sky on Saturday evening. One website explaining Jewish customs indicates that “Shabbat” is more than just a time on a calendar.
Shabbat is observed on the seventh day of the week in fulfillment of the biblical commandment: "Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath of Adonai your God." (Exodus 20:9-10)
While Shabbat occurs on Friday evening and Saturday, it is more than simply another day of the week. It is a special day and we invest it with specialness. Friday and Saturday come automatically, but Shabbat takes place only when we make it happen. We prepare for Shabbat by the clothes we wear, by the meals we eat, by the lighting of Sabbath candles, and by chanting the Kiddush over wine to set apart this special time.
Shabbat is such a special time that it has been likened to the Messianic Age. A well-known midrash expresses this thought:
When God was about to give the Torah to the Jewish people, God summoned the people and said to them: "My children, I have something precious that I would like to give you for all time, if you will accept My Torah and observe my commandments."
The people then asked: "Ruler of the universe, what is that precious gift You have for us?"
The Holy One, blessed by God, replied: "It is the world-to-come (the Messianic Age)!"
The Holy One, blessed by God, said: The Shabbat is a sample of the world-to-come, for that world will be one long Shabbat."
I’ve been a Sunday churchgoer most of my life, but often out of habit or obligation. It usually consisted of morning worship and then I resumed my life in the chaotic world for the rest of the week. I’d never thought that in making a special place to meet God I was preparing for the world-to-come, one long Sabbath.
I’ve starting taking mini-Sabbaths. In addition to my Sunday morning worship routine, I’ve added a quiet evening most Sundays where I can rest before the week. It gives me a chance to reflect on the words I heard in Scripture and the homily from the morning and ask God how he might be planning to use that wisdom in the coming week.
I’ve added another mini-Sabbath on Saturdays from 1PM-5PM where I take a break from all electronics, errands and work. No computer work or iphone, no texting or email. My phone is plugged in at a distant location in my house so I won’t be tempted to look up information, or answer an email.
Wendell Berry has described it well in a stanza of his poem, "Sabbaths - 1979, IV"
I leave work’s daily rule
And come here to this restful place
Where music stirs the pool
And from high stations of the air
Fall notes of wordless grace,
Strewn remnants of the primal Sabbath’s hymn.
My prayer is that we will make our mini-Sabbath’s each week, preparing us for the special time where the world will be one, long Sabbath.