Practices

Keeping Sabbath

“Sabbath keeping is not about taking a day off but about being recalled to our knowledge of and gratitude for God’s activity in creating the world, giving liberty to captives, and overcoming the powers of death.”

— Dorothy C. Bass

Introduction

Thoughts and questions to help you consider this practice

"I'm so busy...I just don't have enough time to complete all my work."

Do you need a break, but doubt you have time for it? What about those who don't have sufficient work to sustain themselves? The practice of keeping Sabbath helps us to resist the tyranny of too much or too little work.

Sabbath in the Bible

The Exodus commandment to "remember" the Sabbath (20:8-11) is grounded in the story of creation. Since we are created in God's image, what behavioral cues do we take from what we see of God in this story?

In Deuteronomy (5:12-15), the commandment to "observe" the Sabbath sees to it that no one, not even animals, will work without respite. How do people freed from slavery celebrate their liberation? What kinds of justice do they wish for others? How might Sabbath-keeping help us resist various forms of enslavement today, for ourselves and for others?

The Sabbath in Judaism

Shabbat — the Jewish Sabbath — is the heart of Judaism. In observant Jewish homes, Shabbat begins each Friday night at sundown as a woman lights the Sabbath candles. Until the following sundown, all activities associated with work or commerce are prohibited.

How does this Sabbath requirement of no work or commerce honor God and respect human needs? What are good re-creative activities to do on the Sabbath (e.g., worship, play, take a walk, rest, read, spend time with loved ones)?

Can Christians keep Sabbath?

In what ways did Jesus extend the meaning of Sabbath by his teaching and ministry? What did Jesus mean by proclaiming, "It is lawful to do good on the Sabbath" (Matthew 12:12)? When Constantine declared Christianity the state religion (321 C.E.), Sunday was established as the day for both rest and worship. Is Sunday the day of the week you experience Sabbath? If not, when do you and your household observe Sabbath?

Though we may yearn for Sabbath rest, what obstacles keep us from it? Pressures to work and spend? Organized sports? The fact that Sundays are no longer protected by custom and law? Trying to overcome a reputation of Sabbath-keeping as sapping joy from the day?

Unwrapping the gift of Sabbath-keeping

How might ceasing work one day a week reshape your work and attitudes on the other six? What is the advantage of a pattern of Sabbath time, as opposed to snatching odd moments or hours of Sabbath time? What are the advantages to keeping Sabbath on Sunday? Who might not be able to keep Sabbath on Sunday? How might we enable them to keep Sabbath another time?

How is Sabbath-keeping a way to honor the generosity of our Maker? How does our society's Sabbath-keeping (or lack thereof) express our relation to the created world? What changes in society would make it easier to keep Sabbath? In what ways can members of a worshiping community help one another step off the treadmill of work-and-spend and into the circle of glad gratitude for the gifts of God?

  • Let Sabbath time shape the way you begin and end each day. In the Bible (Genesis 1), each new day begins at sundown. The first part of each day begins in restful darkness, preparing for the gift of light and activity. As Eugene Peterson notes, "I go to sleep to get out of the way for a while." God and nature go on without us, and we join the work in the morning. The Jewish Shabbat observance, which begins on Friday evening, honors this biblical view of time. How might "beginning" the day in the Genesis way change your attitude as you start and end your day?
  • Invite an observant Jew to explain how his or her family keeps Sabbath and what this practice means to them. Adapt Jewish Shabbat prayers to welcome the Sabbath on Saturday evening. Jews bless the ending of Shabbat by giving children something sweet so the taste of Sabbath peace will linger on the tongue. Offer this kind of blessing to someone on Sunday evening.
  • What's good to say "yes" to on the Sabbath?
    • Joyful worship.
    • Feasting, playing, taking delight in nature and in one another.
    • Freedom that contributes to the freedom of others and to the well-being of the natural world.
    • Something different from what you do regularly all other days.
Woman walking down road surrounded by nature
children at play
  • What's good to say "no" to on the Sabbath?
    • Committee meetings, even for church. Schedule meetings on other days.
    • The marketplace. Try not to spend money on the Sabbath. Refuse to let the marketplace govern life this day.
    • Sadness and mourning. "The Sabbath does not 'do away' with sadness and sorrow," writes Pinchas H. Peli in The Jewish Sabbath; "it merely requires that all sadness be 'tabled' for one day so that we may not forget that there is also joy and happiness in the world and acquire a more balanced and hopeful picture of life." Even mourning is suspended in order to rejoin the community for Sabbath. "The Sabbath, by its very being, comforts and heals."
  • Rest from commerce. Name three things you might do to "rest" from commerce on the Sabbath.
  • Rest from worry. What activities summon worry or anger in you — paying bills, doing tax returns, making "to do" lists for the coming week, thinking of things or people who irritate you? If you knew you could refrain from those worrisome activities for 24 hours every week, how would it change your week? How might it help you let go of slights and grudges?
  • Rest for creation. How can we spend Sabbath practicing a way of life that is good for creation? What might this do to us during the other six days?
  • Rest from work. What would this mean for you and for your friends and family? Do you know anyone who is required to work on Sundays? Name what Sabbath might mean in this person's situation. How can you help him/her find joy in Sabbath?

Links

  • In Leviticus, "Jubilee" was an extension of the sabbatical principle to national economic policy. Learn more about the practice of Jubilee, ancient and modern. Check on the progress of Jubilee USA Network, a movement calling for the cancellation of the unpayable debt of the world's poorest countries.

Worship Materials

"Remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and that the LORD your God brought you out from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm; therefore the LORD your God commanded you to keep the Sabbath day."

— Deuteronomy 5:15

 Call to Worship

Sisters and brothers, alight here.
Cease your flying about for a moment.
Alight here and rest your movement, your wings, your daily things.
Alight here and sing, sing the praise of our Creator.
Moses, after years of wandering, finally alighted at the edge of the promised land, and met God.
God, the hovering, brooding Spirit is safely guarding this nest of worship.
Alight here, and call on the winged Spirit of God.

— Lani Wright, Cottage Grove, Oregon

Welcoming Sabbath in Worship

  • On a designated Sunday, remove all timepieces from the sanctuary. Check watches at the door (put them in pockets or purses). Challenge congregation members to leave watches off all day, to live by the rhythms of creation (including their own bodies).
  • In the Black church tradition, a preacher might greet Sunday morning by shouting, "This is the day the Lord has made! Let us rejoice and be glad in it!" In what ways does your worship service welcome Sunday as a special, set-apart day? Reflect on the elements of your worship service, such as the call to worship, and look in your hymnals for hymns written especially for this day.
Person raising their hands in worship
praise band

Hymns

Morning Has Broken

"Praise with elation, praise every morning,
God's re-creation of the new day."
Text: Eleanor Farjeon

O Day of Rest and Gladness

"O day of rest and gladness, O day of joy and light..."
Text: Christopher Wordsworth

Teach Me the Measure of My Days

"Teach me the measure of my days, thou Maker of my frame.
I would survey life's narrow space, and learn how frail I am."
Text: Isaac Watts (based on Psalm 39)

Day by Day

"Day by day, dear Lord, three things I pray:
to see thee more clearly,
love thee more dearly,
follow thee more nearly, day by day."
Text: St. Richard of Chichester

Books & Films

Read more about Receiving the Day: Christian Practices for Opening the Gift of Time
Receiving the Day: Christian Practices for Opening the Gift of Time
Dorothy C. Bass

Receiving the Day invites us to open the gift of time, to dwell in the freedom to rest and worship that God intends for us and for all creatures.

Read more about Sabbath Keeping: Finding Freedom in the Rhythms of Rest
Sabbath Keeping: Finding Freedom in the Rhythms of Rest
Lynne M. Baab

With collected insights from sabbath keepers of all ages and backgrounds, Sabbath Keeping offers a practical and hopeful guidebook that encourages all of us to slow down and enjoy our relationship with the God of the universe.

Read more about Sabbath: Finding Rest, Renewal, and Delight in Our Busy Lives
Sabbath: Finding Rest, Renewal, and Delight in Our Busy Lives
Wayne Muller

With wonderful stories, poems, and suggestions for practice, Muller teaches us how we can use this time of sacred rest to refresh our bodies and minds, restore our creativity, and regain our birthright of inner happiness.

Read more about Keeping the Sabbath Wholly: Ceasing, Resting, Embracing, Feasting
Keeping the Sabbath Wholly: Ceasing, Resting, Embracing, Feasting
Marva J. Dawn

Combining sound biblical theology and research into Jewish traditions with many practical suggestions, Keeping the Sabbath Wholly offers a healthy balance between head and heart: the book shows how theological insights can undergird daily life and practice, and it gives the reader both motivation and methods for enjoying a special holy day.

Read more about The Sabbath
The Sabbath
Abraham Joshua Heschel

Elegant, passionate, and filled with the love of God’s creation, Abraham Joshua Heschel’s The Sabbath has been hailed as a classic of Jewish spirituality ever since its original publication — and has been read by thousands of people seeking meaning in modern life.

Read more about Groundhog Day
Groundhog Day

Phil Connors, a sarcastic weatherman, finds himself reliving February 2nd over and over again in Punxsutawney, PA — but he’s the only person who realizes it. A modern-day morality tale in the guise of a romantic comedy, this film explores different ways we might spend our time if we had all the time in the world.

Read more about Chariots of Fire
Chariots of Fire

Based on the true account of the British running team during the 1924 Olympic games in Paris. Eric Liddell, a Scottish missionary, is a sabbatarian who refuses to run any races on Sunday, the day he is scheduled for a preliminary heat in the 100 meter dash.

Read more about A Day Apart: How Jews, Christians, and Muslims Find Faith, Freedom, and Joy on the Sabbath
A Day Apart: How Jews, Christians, and Muslims Find Faith, Freedom, and Joy on the Sabbath
Christopher D. Ringwald

In a compelling blend of journalism, scholarship, and personal memoir, Christopher D. Ringwald examines the Sabbath from Creation to the present, weaving together the stories of three families, three religions, and three thousand years of history.

What Others Are Doing

Read more about Singing the life-giving song of exhalation
Female divers off the coast of Korea often hold their breath for several minutes at a time. When they emerge for air, they first exhale, emitting a distinctive cry, and then breathe in. Image from LisaSee.com/Financial Times
Read more about A Minneapolis congregation finds new life through the ancient practice of keeping Sabbath
The addition of a contemplative Saturday evening service was part of a radical change in the worship life of Lake Nokomis Presbyterian Church.
Read more about Andrea Palpant Dilley: Slacking off and the call to Sabbath
Guy Watching TV

Resources

read more about Sabbatical for Others and Oneself

Sabbatical for Others and Oneself

Bill Gafkjen

In these blog posts, Pastor Bill Gafkjen advocates “the case for biblical sabbaticals” as a time of rest and renewal for others as well as for oneself.

read more about Sabbath (in series “Christian Reflection: A Series in Faith and Ethics”)

Sabbath (in series “Christian Reflection: A Series in Faith and Ethics”)

Robert Kruschwitz

The July 2002 issue of “Christian Reflection: A Series in Faith and Ethics” features a collection of essays on the topic of Sabbath-keeping, including an interview with Dorothy Bass on “Opening the Gift of Sabbath.” (c) 2002 The Center for Christian Ethics at Baylor University. All rights reserved. Permission is granted to reproduce these materials for personal or group study.

read more about Study Guides for “Sabbath”

Study Guides for “Sabbath”

Robert Kruschwitz

This is a companion study guide to the “Sabbath” issue of “Christian Reflection: A Series in Faith and Ethics.” (c) 2002 The Center for Christian Ethics at Baylor University. All rights reserved. Permission is granted to reproduce these materials for personal or group study.