Friday in Jerusalem. Much of our day packed, visiting the places where Jesus spent His final hours. We walked through Caiaphas’ palace. Saw the place, the stone prison under his home, where they kept Jesus as He awaited condemnation. We wandered in the back garden and paused at the bottom of the stone steps where He stood at the top, a rooster crowed, and He looked at Peter with compassion (Luke 22:61). We sang Via Dolorosa, walking along the cobbled road to a place believed to be Golgotha, The Place of the Skull. We spent a somber day, contemplating Jesus and His sacrifice.
And after a thoughtful day, back in our hotel room we prepare for a different kind of evening. It’s late afternoon and promises to be a clear, cooler night. I dress in light layers, under-camisole, long sleeve tee, blouse and jacket. I make sure to have the wide hairband to cover my ears and grab a light blanket. I don’t want to be cold.
We meet our group in the hotel courtyard and begin the trek to the Temple Mount. I hold Tim’s hand. We weave through the crowded marketplace, long intersecting streets, no more than ten feet wide, passing store front after store front. I notice what each shop offers as we pass by, olive-wood carvings, beautiful woven scarves in rich, vibrant colours, jewelry and beads
We make it through the market to security check, and wait in line. Beyond is the Wailing Wall, but we and most of the people with us, are not going there to weep, we are going to celebrate. Passed security we descend the stairs to the plaza below. People bustle everywhere; all kinds of people, old men with long beards in black clothes, curled hair at their temples, small children in strollers pushed by young mothers dressed in long shirts and simple blouses, young men in yarmulkes resting atop their heads, middle-aged women holding small black books in their hands, and tourists, like us, eager for the upcoming experience. The air is electric in anticipation of what is to come. We all know, and we are all excited.
Tim and I go our separate ways, he to the men’s side, me to the women’s. I feel like a child entering the wonder of Disneyland. On the other side of the partition I notice white plastic chairs and make my way to an empty one and sit. Around me the women are waiting. While they wait some talk with friends, some read the words from the small black book, their lips move silently, and some, like me wait quietly.
Through the crowd I see women weeping, tucking small pieces of paper into crevices in the wall. I hear English beside me and turn to the high-school aged girls and ask them questions. They are Americans, come to Jerusalem for school. The black book is the Psalms.
I walk around,
Daylight begins to disappear; the moment we’ve been waiting for.
Behind me I hear singing, happy voices raised in joyful celebration.
I turn and see a circle of women.
Two young women dressed in military uniform, army-green pants, army-green shirt, hair tied back, a long gun criss-crossing their backs, it’s strap across their chest, lead the rejoicing.
Their faces bright with joy, their smiles could not get any bigger.
I have no idea what the song-words mean but I know they’re wonderful, full of praise and celebration.
The circle gets larger as more women join. I want to join too.
I want to celebrate.
I want to feel the joy.
I want to express my thanksgiving with abandon.
I want to dance in praise to God.
I want my Sabbath to start like this, to feel like this.
I’ve kept the Sabbath all my life, but never, never ever like this.
The music gets louder as more women join the circle.
I join too.
And we dance and they sing.
Sabbath is here – and nothing else matters.
The sharp contrast between my day and my evening is not lost on me. I lived the daylight hours in melancholy, sadness, and grief. Pictures of Jesus’ final hours in my mind. Him stumbling in the street, a cross-beam tumbling off His shredded, bleeding back. His body hanging on the cross, the echo of His cry, “My God, why have you forsaken me,” and death’s final words “It is finished,” reverberating in my head.
And as the sun sets and darkness settles, my evening is lived in exuberant joy, filled with dancing and celebration.
And the one,
has everything to do with the other.
There are two places in Scripture where we are given the command to keep the Sabbath and it’s rationale, Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5. For most of my life Sabbath-keeping was much for the reason given to the newly-freed Israelites at the base of Mount Sinai, “in six days the Lord made heaven and earth and rested on the seventh ” (Ex. 20:11), the seventh-day He blessed and hallowed at creation (Ex. 20:11b and Gen 2:3) . God knew we would work ourselves ragged so He made a rule for us to rest. We honour Him as our Creator and Lord when we follow His example, “keep” His rule of resting since He knows what’s best for us.
While I strongly believe all this, l’ve learned that there’s more.
So much more.
Forty years later the children of Israel are at the border of the promised land, ready, waiting to enter what God vowed to give them. Moses has led them well and His time to lead is nearly complete. In his final words to them he repeats the commands of God. The reason he cites for keeping the Sabbath is different though. “You were slaves in Egypt,” he says, “and God delivered you with a strong hand and outstretched arm,” so rest on the seventh day because God is your rescuer.
How does that rationale fit in my life?
I’m not a slave in Egypt or anywhere else, I’ve not been delivered.
I can already hear you say,” yes you have.”
I am a slave to sin and by the outstretched arms of Jesus, I am delivered.
And therein the REST God calls me to.
I cannot, in any way, DO anything to achieve salvation. My rescue comes only by the hand of the Lord and only as I rest in Him can I be set free.
And so to rest on Sabbath is to physically acknowledge and commemorate the spiritual truth that resting in the work Jesus has done is how I’m delivered and saved.
And still there’s more.
At the moment of Jesus’ death the barrier to the Holy of Holies was torn.
What kept us separated from God was ripped from top to bottom by unseen hands.
We were once again given access.
We could be WITH God again.
When God asks me to keep the Sabbath He is saying, “Please come be with Me. I made You, I miss you, and I made a way, through Jesus, for us to be together. Please come spend time with me for this 24 hours, weekly, until we can be together forever.”
And when I turn to His bid I get a glimpse of heaven, when relationship will be wholly restored and I can be in the full presence of God.
Sabbath is because God knew we needed to rest, so He told as to.
Sabbath is resting in the deliverance from sin through the outstretched arms of Jesus and Him alone.
Sabbath is to be with God the way He longs for us to be with Him, intimately.
And Sabbath is to celebrate, joyfully, looking forward to when we will “ever be with the Lord” (I Thes. 4:17 b).