[“Every woman has a story and every woman’s story matters to God.”]- Tabitha’s Daughters, LLC
In the corpus of the 10 Commandments, only one begins with the word, “remember.” Within the fourth commandment, Israel was instructed to “remember and keep the Sabbath holy.” Of the 10 Commandments, the term “holy” is exclusively ascribed to the keeping of the “Sabbath.”
“Keep” in Hebrew: [shamar] guard, protect, restrain, celebrate, take care “Remember” in Hebrew: [zakar] to remember, to recall, call to mind “Holy” in Hebrew [qadash] – to set apart; to be hallowed; to be honored; to consecrate, to keep sacred
Many of us will “remember” a time when we did just as the 4th commandment instructs. For Christians, Sunday was the holy day. Sunday was our Sabbath. Most department and grocery stores were closed by sundown on Saturday evening. Our church clothes were ironed and pressed on Saturday night, ready for Sunday morning worship. Our family dinner was also prepared the night before, needing only to be warmed in the oven on Sunday. After Sunday school and church attendance, as children, we were “urged” by our parents and grandparents to act differently, with no loud talking, running, card playing, or acting wild on “God’s day.” The Sabbath was a time for rest, worship, and family. There was little to no shopping, working, or hectic activities. It was truly a special day for contemplating the goodness of the Lord.
Regardless of what denomination we were raised in, a part of our religious training was learning and reciting the 10 Commandments. These sacred verses were written down everywhere: in our churches, schools, homes, on city buildings and street plaques. Inscribed in our collective memory was the scene from the movie, “The Ten Commandments.” In this cinematic masterpiece, God “wrote” the 10 laws on stone tablets with divine majesty and thunder, as Moses [Charlton Heston] watched in awe.
Yes, we are very familiar with the 10 Commandments; but, not so much as how these laws shaped the history of Jewish and Christian tradition, and how the Sabbath shaped Jewish and Christian religious beliefs.
And now, THE WORD from Our Sponsor………………………………………………………….
“Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy, as the Lord your God has commanded you. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God……Therefore, the Lord your God has commanded you to observe the Sabbath day.” (Deuteronomy 5: 12-15)
“Righteousness and justice are the foundation of your throne; love and faithfulness go before you. Blessed are those who have learned to proclaim you, who walk in the light of your presence, O Lord. They rejoice in your name all day long, they exult your righteousness. For you are their glory and strength, and by your favor you exalt our horn. Indeed, our shield belongs to the Lord, our king to the Holy One of Israel.” (Psalm 89: 14-18)
“Lord, you have been our dwelling place throughout all generations.” (Psalm 90:1)
“If you refrain from trampling the Sabbath, from pursuing your own interests on my holy day; if you call the Sabbath a delight and the holy day of the Lord honorable; if you honor it, not going your own ways, serving your own interests, or pursuing your own affairs, then you shall take delight in the Lord, and I will make you ride upon the heights of the earth; I will feed you with the heritage of your ancestor, Jacob. (Isaiah 58: 13-14)
In Jewish tradition, the Sabbath [Shabbat] is not just a day; but a holy presence. The Sabbath is a sacred celebration and invitation from God to humanity, to enter into the inheritance which God bestowed to Israel.
“The Sabbath is a synonym for The Shechinah; for the presence of God in the world: Shabbat comes with its own holiness. The Sabbath is the name of God. We are within the Sabbath rather than the Sabbath being with us. The Sabbath is a metaphor for paradise and a testimony to God’s presence……….” (The Sabbath – its meaning for modern man, Abraham Joshua Heschel, pg. xv)
In a radical departure from what we were taught, as Christians, regarding the Sabbath observance, the Sabbath is God’s visitation to humanity each 7th day. God, as Shechinah, comes as a sacred, holy presence to unite with and heal the world. The Jews understand this holy presence as “The Someone Else.” In an awesome and mysterious metaphor, the Sabbath is God’s mate, the Sabbath is the Queen, and the Sabbath is God’s Bride.
“The Sabbath is the bride, and God is like the groom. The Sabbath is the union of the bride with her heavenly spouse….Because the Sabbath and the Community of Israel are the Bride and God is the groom, we pray: “Grant us that we may be like Thy bride, and that Thy bride may find tranquility in Thee…..” [The Sabbath, pg. 110]
In this ancient rabbinic understanding, we discover why the Sabbath is synonymous with the Shechinah (the illuminating presence/dwelling/glory/ of God in the world). The Sabbath, much like a bride, comes to delight her husband and be one with Him. In Judaism, the metaphors of king and queen; groom and bride, assist in expanding the comprehension of the mystic union between God and humanity, each Sabbath:
“Every Friday evening, the eve of the Sabbath, millions of Jews worldwide welcome the Sabbath Queen into their synagogues and personal dwellings. the Shechinah – the divine Glory and Holy Presence is welcome in her dual aspects as Queen [Malkah] and Bride [Kallah]. As Queen, she is a stately presence, as Bride she is the center of celebration and rejoicing.” [www.digital-brillance.com/index.php]
Therefore, we should understand the Sabbath as the holy observance of a threefold sacred celebration: to worship God in community, to worship God with our families, and to worship God in our individual/personal relationships.
Shechinah as Queen of Creation
Enter in peace, O crown of her husband
Even in gladness and good cheer among the faithful of her treasured nation.
Enter O Bride, enter O Bride, among the faithful of the treasured nation.
Enter, O Bride, the Sabbath Queen (Lehka Dodi – a song of welcome for the Sabbath Queen composed by Solomon Alkabetz]
The Sabbath as a Spiritual Practice
We see, much to our surprise, the observation of the Sabbath is the imaging of God as female, using the metaphors of Bride and Queen. While this is an extraordinary revelation and empowering concept, especially for women, how are we to use this new understanding of the Sabbath, for our personal and familial worship experiences? In what ways can the observation of the Sabbath become a enlightening spiritual practice for us, as contemporary Christian women?
First and foremost, we can assert the Sabbath is a liberating, sacred, and necessary spiritual practice for contemporary Christians. As Jesus taught his disciples and Pharisees who accused him of picking grain on the Sabbath: “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.” (Mark 2: 27).
Rabbi Abraham Heschel writes in agreement with Jesus: “Six days a week, we wrestle with the world, wringing profit from the earth; on the Sabbath we especially care for the seed of eternity planted in the soul. The world has our hands, but our soul belongs to [The] Someone Else.” (The Sabbath, pg. xv).
This is why in Jewish tradition, the Sabbath comes [to us], instead of us coming to the Sabbath. “It is said more than Israel has kept Shabbat, Shabbat has kept Israel.” (mechon-mamre.org)
The fourth commandment reminds us, God rested on the seventh day; thus instituting a holy invitation for humanity to do the same. When we, as God’s humanity, decide to refuse the invitation from God to separate ourselves from the “screech of dissonant days,” we are committing a disobedience that sets us up for a continuation of ordinary madness; chaos reigns, and every day is exactly the same. Our refusal to rest from the discord of the week is profane. It is humanity’s way of snubbing God. In complete arrogance and ignorance of our need to separate ourselves from what we have created (work), humanity has decided there is no need to stop, rest, and get off the 6 day rat wheel. The Sabbath invitation from God recognizes humanity’s great need for healing, peace, re-creation, and rest from the six days of work.
The Sabbath is a sacred call to rest with and in God, where the celebration and worship of re-creation, contemplation, and union with God, is a much needed suspension from the world’s insanities. In Jewish tradition, the Sabbath is the foretaste of paradise. The Sabbath is an earthly prelude to the coming messianic age of resurrection.
In the Jewish tradition of Sabbath, the woman of the household sets the rhythm and traditions of the Sabbath preparation in the home. The Sabbath becomes a delight to the family – a delight to the body, mind, and soul. At the Sabbath celebration, there is joy, rest, and peace. There is good food, there is love-making, there is harmony, and there is worship. This is why the Sabbath is a day to “keep and remember, as holy.”
Abraham Heschel writes: “We are the mate of the Sabbath, and each week, through our sanctification** of the Sabbath, we marry the day. That marriage shapes us: What we are depends on what the Sabbath is to us.
[**Sanctification is the Hebrew translation for “marriage.”]
When we learn, through the spiritual practice of Sabbath, to step away from the toils and cares of our work week, so as to enter into the celebration and union with the Bride, we allow the Sabbath [Queen] to heal us from the “screech of dissonant days.” (Heschel, pg. 13).
Questions and considerations from our study
Does knowing the Sabbath is a feminine imaging of God change the way you view the Sabbath day? Explain.
How can we, as contemporary Christian women, re-adopt the Sabbath as a spiritual practice? What are some ways in which we can “remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy?”
FINAL QUOTES (from Abraham Heschel’s book, “The Sabbath”)
“There is a reciprocity between man and the spirit. The Sabbath is not only a legal institution, a state of mind or a form of conduct, but a process in the world of spirit.” (pg. 53)
“The Sabbath is meaningful to God, for without it there would be no holiness in our world of time.” (pg. 54)
“The Sabbath is a bride, and its celebration is like a wedding.” (pg. 54)
“It is not good that the spirit should be alone, so Israel was destined to be a helpmeet for the Sabbath.” (pg. 52)
“In spite our triumphs, we have fallen victim to the work of our hands; it is as if the forces we had conquered have conquered us.” (pg. 27)
“The Sabbath teaches all beings whom to praise.” (pg.24)
OUR SENDING PRAYER
So you shall love what is holy with all your courage, with all your passion, with all your strength. Let the words that have come down shine in our words and actions. We must teach our children to know and understand them. We must speak about what is good and holy within our homes. When we are working, when we are at play, when we lie down, and when we get up. Let the work of our hands speak of goodness. Let it run in our blood and glow from our doors and windows.
We should love ourselves, for we are of God. We should love our neighbors as ourselves. We should love the stranger, for we were once strangers in the land of Egypt. Let love fill our hearts with its clear precious water.
Be quiet and listen to the still small voice within that speaks in love. Open to that voice, hear it, heed it, and work for life. Let us remember and strive to be good. Let us remember to find what is holy within and without.
(Excerpted from a poem by Marge Piercy – V’ahavta)