by Keri Wyatt Kent
It’s been said that if we forget the past, we are destined to repeat its mistakes. So I wonder what will happen in a culture focused on the here and now, a culture that proclaims anything not the latest and greatest is “so five minutes ago.”
I do a lot of teaching and writing on the ancient practice of Sabbath, which God told us to observe and remember. It was an important enough directive that it is included in the Ten Commandments. I’ve had people argue with me that because of Jesus, we are set free from the law, so we don’t need to practice Sabbath. While it is true that we are saved by grace and not by keeping the law, that doesn’t necessarily “prove” that Sabbath keeping is irrelevant, any more than salvation by grace demonstrates that any of the other commandments are irrelevant. Even if we are trusting Jesus for redemption, we still believe “don’t lie” and “don’t murder” are good rules to live by, and act accordingly.
We won’t earn God’s favor through rule-keeping, which actually has exciting implications for those who want to practice Sabbath. It sets us free from legalism, and allows us to enter into the heart of Sabbath rest—which is a picture of communion with God. It allows us to experience grace. Sabbath began as a Jewish practice—and the roots of the Christian faith are firmly planted in Judaism. When we understand and appreciate the common past we have with Jewish people, we come to understand our faith, and indeed Jesus, in a new way. We must understand the context of our faith.
There are threads running through Sabbath that give it richer meaning. Just as the children of Israel kept Sabbath as a reminder of their being freed from slavery, we are freed from the slavery of sin. Just as Sabbath flattened social hierarchy, Jesus did as well. The two loaves of bread on the traditional Jewish Shabbat table represent the two portions of manna the Israelites would gather on the day before Sabbath. The practice reminds us of the past. But it also looks ahead. Our communion table, like the Sabbath table, is adorned with bread, candles and wine. The loaves also represent the ultimate sacrifice of the Lord of the Sabbath, who referred to himself as the bread of heaven. It’s also a prophetic picture of our ultimate spiritual rest in heaven, in perfect communion with Jesus.
It’s one thing to see and appreciate the connections between the Old Testament and the New Testament. But when we actually take a day of rest, we live in those connections. We experience physical rest, and it deepens our understanding of spiritual rest. To practice Sabbath is to live in grace.