Celebrating a Super Sabbath

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Have you ever had a spa day?  When you go to a spa it has its own smell, doesn’t it?  It has a special feel to it.  It has a hushed, relaxing sound.  The food at a spa has a special flavor.  The lighting is warm, but muted. Everyone there knows it is a spa, and they behave differently in a spa. Imagine if you could capture that feeling once a week.

Special days should feel special.  Why should you take time once a week to celebrate the Sabbath?

Have you thought much about why we want to celebrate the Sabbath?

First:  God Designed it.

And on the seventh day God ended His work which He had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had done.  Then God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it, because in it He rested from all His work which God created and made.

Genesis 2:2-3


We can also read about a man after God’s own heart, David who craved a Sabbath.  He says:

“One thing I ask of the LORD, this is what I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD and to seek him in his temple.”

Nehemiah grieved for the forsaken Sabbath and warned the people when he saw God’s people desecrating the Sabbath.  In Nehemiah it says:

“In those days I saw men in Judah treading winepresses on the Sabbath and bringing in grain and loading it on donkeys, together with wine, grapes, figs and all other kinds of loads. And they were bringing all this into Jerusalem on the Sabbath. Therefore I warned them against selling food on that day. Men from Tyre who lived in Jerusalem were bringing in fish and all kinds of merchandise and selling them in Jerusalem on the Sabbath to the people of Judah. I rebuked the nobles of Judah and said to them, “What is this wicked thing you are doing-desecrating the Sabbath day?  Didn’t your forefathers do the same things, so that our God brought all this calamity upon us and upon this city? Now you are stirring up more wrath against Israel by desecrating the Sabbath.”

Nehemiah 13:15-18

What God created, Jesus followed:

He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. (Luke 4:16) “Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where He prayed.”

Mark 1:35

So, if God designed it,  David longed for it, Nehemiah grieved for the loss of it and Jesus celebrated the Sabbath regularly, why do we find it so difficult to truly CELEBRATE the Sabbath?

Ladies, our bodies crave a Sabbath.  Take a look at this quote from Eugene Peterson:

“We are created to live rhythmically in the rhythms of creation….The interesting thing about rhythm is that we can slow down or quicken the tempo, but we cannot eliminate the beat, the cadence…Genesis 1 is structured in time, a seven-day sequence of God’s speaking creation into being. The formative effect is rhythmic, using…. repeated melodic phrases to pull our distracted, anxious, and sometimes lethargic lives into the steady, sure, unhurried pace of God as he speaks his reliable and effective word across a sequence of six days. These rhythms are then resolved in an all-embracing seventh-day Sabbath, in which we become present to all of creation time, assimilated and realized. It is by means of this contemplative seventh day that we become participants in creation.”


Modern Scientists have proven that without proper rest, relaxation and sleep, our bodies will literally start to break down.  Our mental health will deteriorate, leaving us with stress, anxiety, depression, neuroticism and burn out.  We will suffer from fatigue, mood swings, menstrual cycle upset, hormonal problems, increased risk of breast and colorectal cancers, heartburn, abdominal pains, an impaired immune system, hypertension and heart disease.

So we know that celebrating the Sabbath is the best thing for us.  The Bible tells us so, modern science backs it up. Yet, Sunday after Sunday we waste another opportunity to commune with God in his sanctuary.

John Stott says this: “We must never… let our Sundays become mere routine engagements; in that attitude of mind, we shall trifle them away by a humdrum formality. Every Sunday is meant to be a great day, [the Lord’s day,] and we should approach it expectantly, in full awareness of this.”

So, how do we avoid this?  How do we avoid the humdrum formality of another Sunday spent rushing and arguing on the way to church?  How do we lay down the modern speed of our nanosecond culture and take a rest for awhile?

Let us peer back to the time of Jesus to see how a Sabbath was celebrated in his life.

Sabbath preparation began early Friday and is concluded by sundown. The preparation is much like what we would do for a special guest: cleaning, cooking and everyone bathed and dressed in nice clothes. The table is set with the best dishes and tableware and a festive meal is prepared.

First there is the observance of the coming Sabbath by the wearing of the prayer shawl, called the Tallit.  This is worn by Hebrew men on the Sabbath and other holy days. It is a sacred garment worn as a reminder to observe all of God’ s holy laws.  The prayer shawl can be pulled up over the head in order to create a “prayer closet” of intimacy and privacy with the Lord.

Next, they include candles.  The Sabbath rules indicate there must be at least two candles present on the Shabbat table, and a special blue and white braided candle used at the conclusion of the Sabbath meal on Saturday evening. “Candles are lit on all joyous occasions and holidays, preserving a Jewish tradition that dates back at least to the time of Esther (Esther 8:16)”  The two white candles represent creation and redemption. Lighting of the candles: marks the beginning and end of all Sabbaths and holidays. Sabbath begins at sundown, thus the candles must be lit no later than 18 minutes before sunset.  The woman of the house covers her head and encircles the lighted candles three times with her hand while repeating Blessed is He and blessed be His Name.”

She then covers her eyes and recites the blessings: “Blessed are you, Lord our God, King of the Universe, who has sanctified us with His commandments, and commanded us to light the Shabbat candles.”

She might then add another brief, silent prayer for family members or recite a prayer.

She covers her eyes while reciting the blessing because a blessing is usually recited before the act (lighting the candles) and yet lighting the candles ushers in the Sabbath with its prohibition against work (kindling a candle). The woman covers her eyes to deprive herself of the benefit of the candles’ light-it’s as if the candles are not lit. Once the blessing is pronounced and the Sabbath has arrived, she uncovers her eyes and has the light!

A Special Challah, or braided bread is shared. Lev. 24:5-9 God commands that this special bread be set out before the Lord on each Sabbath as a reminder of the covenant between the Hebrews and God.

This is followed by an evening Shabbat service to welcome the Sabbath. It is held in the synagogue or in the home. Prayers and psalms are recited.

Next is the recitation by the man of the house: Blessed art Thou, O Lord our God, King of the universe, who creates the fruit of the vine.”

Beginning with the father each person in turn blesses the Challah, or special bread: “Blessed art Thou, O Lord our God, King of the universe, who brings forth bread from the earth.”

Then the father bestows a Parental Blessing to each child: the father places both hands on each child, touches his lips to their forehead and recites a personal or traditional blessing over them. The traditional blessing: “May God make you like Ephraim and Manasseh.” (Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel and Leah for the girls).

If the Father uses a personal blessing it is based on Scripture or on hopes and aspirations for the child’s future.

Next the husband blesses his wife by reading or singing Proverbs 31:10-31 to their wives. Wives read Psalm 112 to their husband.

The meal is eaten and thanks is given. Deut. 8:10 says, “When you have eaten and are satisfied, you shall bless the Lord your God for the good land which He has given you.”

Saturday morning is spent in the Synagogue. Saturday afternoon is unstructured.

A closing ceremony, called the Havdalah ceremony is held on Saturday evening just after dark. “Havdalah” means separation or distinction. This is a short man-made ceremony to formally mark the end of Shabbat. The Havdalah candle is lit, the spices are shaken, wine is sipped, a final blessing is spoken and a song is sung.  The spice box (bessamen) that is shaken and passed around to each family member at the conclusion of the Sabbath signifies the fragrance of life which has just been experienced in the Sabbath.  The special cup, called the Kiddush Cup is used for wine or grape juice. The man of the house pronounces a blessing over the wine which sanctifies the Sabbath.

Ladies, I am not suggesting that we must go back to the ritualistic Sabbath day rules of the Jewish culture, but I am suggesting that we can take some of those rules and apply them to our modern culture to make a Sabbath that is worth celebrating.

Let’s start at the beginning:  They are forbidden to work on the Sabbath.  Do you think you can schedule your week to leave your chores and errands for another day?  What would you need to do for this to be possible?  You may want to make sure clothes are ready to go the night before.  You can spend some extra time preparing the house the day before.  You may want to plan ahead your meal, make a special dessert or a crock pot meal that you can just plug in and enjoy ahead of time.  Set the phone to silent and declare an occasional “unplug” day where you avoid using the gameboys, computers, television, and radio.  Let everyone know the night before so that they have time to “send that important email that simply cannot wait until Monday”

John Piper says, “It astonishes me how many Christians watch the same banal, empty, silly, trivial, titillating, suggestive, immodest TV shows that most unbelievers watch-and then wonder why their spiritual lives are weak and their worship experience is shallow with no intensity.”

He says, “If you really want to hear the Word of God the way He means to be heard in truth and joy and power, turn off the television on Saturday night and read something true and great and beautiful and pure and honorable and excellent and worthy of praise.” Which he is paraphrasing from Phil. 4:8

Instead of making the night before, your late night up watching TV or engaging in social activities, limit these activities.  I know that those activities can be fun and relaxing, but they can be distracting you from spending time preparing your heart and your family for the Sabbath day.  Instead, focus on things that will fuel your hunger for God’s word.  If I am working through a specific Bible Study, I really look forward to my early Sunday mornings when I can get up very early and read and do my Bible study questions before the day begins.  It whets my appetitive for God’s word and leaves me desiring more.

Next, there are the special clothes that they wear.  Spend a little extra energy on your Sabbath cloths, and help your children select clothes that will feel special to them, too.

What do you think about the candles at the table?  What an easy way to make a room feel special, calm, and peaceful.  What can you do to make your home feel that way?  If you have older kids, you may want to use candles at the table.  If you have some toddlers, you may want to stick with special lighting, fragrance rings or soft music to set the mood.

For the Sabbath meal, they share a special bread, called a Challah bread.  What kinds of special foods can you consider for your Sabbath meal?  Perhaps you could bake some special bread, make a special dessert or make a favorite meal. Or, if you have the funds, stop by a bakery and pick up a special item.   It would be best if you prepared it or bought this the day before so that you are not adding to your workload when you should be celebrating.

Next, you see that there are some specific planned blessings on the Sabbath.  First, the father blesses each child using scriptures.  Then he blesses his wife.  She, in turn blesses her husband.  What are some specific ways you and your husband can bless your children and one another?

Perhaps you can have special time alone with each child, or if you have many children, you can rotate daddy taking the kids on date nights.  These do not have to be terribly expensive, but one on one time and blessing them is the key.  Perhaps you can spend time praying together as a family, or just with your spouse, or alone for each family member.  Pray scriptures over them. Pray blessings over them and invite them to join you when they wish.

We also saw that Saturday morning was spent at the synagogue.  Obviously our modern day version of that is going to corporate worship at church.

We see also that the afternoons were unstructured.  What types of things do we fill our Sabbaths with?  Are we running errands, shopping, doing lots of running around?  Perhaps we can make a decision to spend that time unstructured or unplanned.  This will leave us time to go for walks, take a nap, take the kids someplace special for an adventure day.

Finally, they end the Sabbath with the Havdalah.  The candle is lit, the spices are shaken, wine is sipped, a final blessing is spoken and a song is sung.  Perhaps for us that means settling down with the Bible or a nice devotional and cup of tea.  Maybe we can light that candle we have to wait until the baby is in bed to burn, or perhaps a leisurely bath before bed.  Now, what special way can you think of to end your Sabbath and mark is as complete?

Blessings for Wives: Proverbs 31:10:31

A wife of noble character who can find? She is worth far more than rubies. Her husband has full confidence in her and lacks nothing of value. She brings him good, not harm, all the days of her life.

She selects wool and flax and works with her eager hands. She is like the merchant ships, bringing her food from afar.

She gets up while it is still dark; she provides food for her family and portions for her servant girls.

She considers a field and buys it; out of her earnings she plants a vineyard. She sets about her work vigorously; her arms are strong for her tasks.

She sees that her trading is profitable, and her lamo does not go out at night. In her hand she holds the distaff and grasps the spindle with her fingers.

She opens her arms to the poor and extends her hands to the needy. When it snows, she has no fear for her household; for all of them are clothed in scarlet/

She makes coverings for her bed; she is clothed in fine linen and purple. Her husband is respected at the city gate, where he takes his seat among the elders of the land.

She makes linen garments and sells them, and supplies the merchants with sashes. She is clothed with strength and dignity; she can laugh at the days to come.

She speaks with wisdom. And faithful instruction is her tongue.

She watches over the affairs of her household and does not eat the bread of idleness. Her children arise and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her: “Many women do noble things, but you surpass them all.”

Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised. Give her the reward she has earned, and let her works bring her praise at the city gate.

Blessings for Husbands: Psalm 112

Praise the LORD. Blessed is the man who fears the LORD, who finds great delight in his commands.

His children will be mighty in the land; the generation of the upright will be blessed.

Wealth and riches are in his house, and his righteousness endures forever.

Even in darkness light dawns for the upright, for the gracious and compassionate and righteous man.

Good will come to him who is generous and lends freely, who conducts his affairs with justice.

Surely he will never be shaken; a righteous man will be remembered forever.

He will have no fear of bad news; his heart is steadfast, trusting in the LORD.

His heart is secure, he will have no fear; in the end he will look in triumph on his foes.

He has scattered abroad his gifts to the poor, his righteousness endures forever; his horn will be lifted high in honor.

The wicked man will see and be vexed, he will gnash his teeth and waste away; the longings of the wicked will come to nothing.

Blessings for the Children:

May God bless you and watch over you. May God shine His face toward you and show you favor. May God be favorably disposed toward you and grant you peace.

Blessings for sons: May God make you like Ephraim and Menashe. (Gen 48:20)

Blessings for daughters: May God make you like Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel and Leah.

1 Comment

  1. Joy

    What a lovely article!

    While reading the part about how to end the Sabbath I kept thinking about how, according to the rabbis, marital relations on the Sabbath is a mitzvah. A mitzvah is something like a good deed or a blessing. It’s not something we’re commanded to do, but it’s something that makes G-d happy when we do it. There are surely worse ways of ending the Sabbath than spending quality time with one’s husband.

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