In our self-centered theologies we naturally incline ourselves to become as the Greek God Atlas, carrying our entire world on our shoulders. Should we even for a moment, consider laying down our burden, our world would tumble into oblivion. God’s Sabbath is a reminder to us that this is not the case: that we are not the master of our own universe, that we live in the world that He has created according to His will.
Sabbath is the essential foundation of living with our God in a relationship based upon trust. To reject the ordinance of Sabbath as a fundamental is a declaration, even by default, that God is not as trustworthy as I confess to believe. Many theologians poo-poo this premise stating that with the indwelling of the Holy Spirit such mundane expressions is unnecessary. James certainly didn’t think so:
Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: show me thy faith without thy works, and I will show thee my faith by my works.
(James 2:18 KJV)
Others argue that the Sabbath command is fulfilled in the death and resurrection of the Messiah, that to re-instate that which has been done away is to make void the effective deliverance of His sacrifice. Someone forgot to explain this to the writer of the book of Hebrews, who wrote forty years after the supreme sacrifice was made:
There remaineth therefore a rest to the people of God. For he that is entered into his rest, he also hath ceased from his own works, as God did from his. Let us labor therefore to enter into that rest, lest any man fall after the same example of unbelief.
(Hebrews 4:9-11 KJV)
The Sabbath tradition begins with two traditional elements: the Sabbath candles and the challah loaf.
The candles are symbolic of the two relational elements we have in our God: the candle to the right represents creation. The candle to the left represents redemption. The struggle of our existence throughout the week is the pull of the world against these divine forces. The Sabbath is a call for our return to Him.
At the conclusion of the Sabbath, these two forces are woven into one and we light the Havdalah. Then the light is extinguished into a full cup of wine, overflowing onto the tray: the Sabbath light goes out as we walk into the world; but its goodness is spilled over.
The challah bread is a sweet, eggy loaf that three measures of dough woven together into one. For some it represents our arms crossed together in rest. For some it is the three elements of the Scripture: the Torah, the Prophets and the Writings. For some it is the three patriarchs: Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, through whom the covenant promises are sustained. For some it is the House of Israel, the galut (those in exile) woven together with God.
There are always two loaves: one for Erev Shabbat as we enter the Sabbath and one for the community Sabbath meal in worship. We bake two loaves on Friday, remembering that our preparation for the Sabbath day is to break our bread in advance. For some this is literal, for some it is symbolic. It ought in any case to be effectual as worship, regardless if you choose to prepare a food on the Sabbath day or to do everything in advance.