But, is this really what God is advocating when He calls upon us to separate one day of our week for rest?
The Hebrew word that is translated as "keep" in that familiar sentence is the word "abad." Normally, when it is translated into English, it is translated as the word "work".
So, does this mean that we are to put a concerted effort into doing nothing?
Some have suggested so. The result is a list of things that you can't do if you want to "keep" the Sabbath day holy (that list varies widely from person to person). In traditional Israeli/Jewish culture, there are 39 prohibitions that all relate specifically with commerce and agriculture. Since many of the Orthodox live in a more urban environment, that list has compounded into... well... a lot more.
But, I think that when we spend so much energy focusing on what Sabbath isn't, we lose sight of wat Sabbath is, or rather, what it was designed to be.
God gave us His first example of what the Sabbath is all about in Genesis 2:1. It says, God rested on the seventh day and made that day something special. In English, there are a lot of ways that we could interpret that passage. We can think of the the fat guy climbing 20 flights of stairs, stopping to huff and pant at every landing. That's rest. Or, a cold beer after a hard day's work. That's rest. Or, watching a ball game, playing checkers with the kids, out in the boat on a lake with a fishing line in the water... all these ideas easily translate into rest for us. But, this isn't what God is described as doing. The Hebraic phrase, "and God saw everything that He did and that it was very good," suggests something altogether different. It's more like a master carpenter, after completing a work of skill and beauty, steps back with his arms crossed and nods to himself, "that's a good job." This is what Sabbath is interpreted as from the Hebrew Bible.
All by itself, this may change the way that we look at the Sabbath Day. It is a day for pausing and looking back over the handiwork of God, in the way that He has provided for us and sustained us through this week.
But, there's more...
People who have worshiped together with me for a long time know this is a trick question, but I often ask it anyway, "How many times a year do we celebrate the Passover, or Yom Kippur, or Rosh Hashana, or Shavu'ot?
People who don't know me usually answer, confidently, "Once per year." But, that's not entirely true. It might be suggested that we actually celebrate each of these days of worship 53 times a year. Once when we specifically take the time to look at this one dynamic of our worship, then (to a lesser degree) every week on our Day of Rest.
Getting the most out of our Day of Rest, our HOLY Day of Rest, means drawing into intimacy with our Creator and Savior. Each of the Holy Days of the year demonstrates a specific aspect of this process.
In traditional Judaism, this is demonstrated by each of the elements of Sabbath worship. There are two candles that are lit, as we invite the Sabbath Day: one represents creation (Rosh Hashana) and the other redemption (Yom Kippur). We taste the Sabbath wine (Passover), then eat the challah, the Sabbath bread (Shavu'ot or Pentecost). We separate ourselves from the worries and pressures of this world (Sukkot or Tabernacles) to remember that it is God above who sustains us.
I would suggest to you that we are not really getting the most of our Sabbath Rest unless we engage the process of visiting each of these aspects of worship in our Sabbath experience. For some, the traditional articles of Judaism are a great tool for walking through the process. For others, these are limiting and confining, wanting to spend more time with different aspects than the traditional rituals allow.
But, these steps are a beautiful path for intimacy with God and restoration of our soul after the struggles we face through the week.
Rosh Hashana is the blowing of trumpets, or, the call of the Shofar. It is an invitation from God to walk in communion with Him. There are three distinct blasts of the ram's horn that encourage our response, Tekia (a succession of at least nine staccato blasts) means to stop what you are doing and listen. Shava'reem (three medium blasts, often with an up-turned sound) means to turn from the direction you have been going. And, Teruah (a single long blast) means to rally or return. This special time of worship is focused upon letting go of the things that this life demands on us, turning our backs on the world and focusing ourselves upon God. All of our sin, our selfishness, our hurt, our confusion and distrust, we abandon for the God who has given us life. We light the light of Creation, often represented by a blue candle, to demonstrate that nothing would exist if it were not for Him, and we can only find truth and rest and purpose by looking to Him for our understanding and protection.
Yom Kippur is the Day of Atonement. We light a white candle. In this we recognize our total bankruptcy, our insufficiency in appealing to the God of Righteousness. But, He is also the God of Redemption, the God of Mercy and the God of Love. He has made a way for us to enter into communion with Him, not because of our ability but in spite of it.
Kiddush, of the cup of wine (or grape juice) is the cup of redemption: Passover. We recognize that it must be through the shedding of blood, a great cost, that we may become separated from the bondage of our sin.
But, He didn't purchase our freedom to leave us to wander aimlessly. He has given us the Word of Life. We eat challah, remembering that His has brought us out (of bondage) so that He might bring us in (to the Promised Land of intimacy with Him).
It is on this basis that we celebrate the Sabbath Rest. It is through this process that we enter into a holiness of worship and intimacy that isn't describable in human terms. It is this experience that empowers us to meet each new week with the power of God's Spirit sustaining us, and allows us to see His hand in every stroke of His creation.