Good Shabbos. Shabbat shalom. I hear these words on many a Friday as I leave work for the weekend. No, I haven’t converted to the religion of Jesus, Judaism. But I have noticed how steadfast our Jewish sisters and brothers are about honoring Sabbath. You see, my work takes place in a college setting, and I am blessed to be a partner in a wonderful multifaith, multicultural ministry at Mount Holyoke College in South Hadley, Mass.
Before the sun begins to set on Fridays, our Jewish students and chaplain gather to make preparations for Shabbat. Candles are lit, prayer books placed out and a quiet mood is established as the observant ones gather. I smile as I leave, remembering those days long ago when Sabbath seemed different to me too.
When I was a child and even a teenager, the Sabbath was still a day set apart. Most stores and businesses were closed on Sundays and for many families it was a special day. Some went to church together and then gathered for the biggest family meal of the week. In our family, because Sunday is the Lord’s day, we were expected to be in church— for that’s where God’s faithful people gathered. The Sabbath was the day for singing, praying, and praising God. And while each and every day was a gift, Sunday was the preeminent day for thanking and worshiping God.
What we didn’t do however was work; work never happened on Sunday. We didn’t clean or do laundry, and there was no mowing or yard work. Basically on Sundays we went to church and came home to watch my father watch sports on TV and to revel in the smells of the delicious Sunday dinner that my mother was preparing. Other than setting the table and washing the dishes, my brother and I didn’t (couldn’t) do anything on Sundays. Oh, we tried, but we failed. We even argued that because dancing was mentioned in the Bible that at least we ought to be able to dance to the records we sometimes played in the basement. But we weren’t allowed to do that either because that, too, was considered unseemly. Yes, Sunday, the Lord’s Day, our Sabbath, was considered a day of rest—rest and no work!
Of course, during those days, the main “Sabbath” that was commemorated in our country was the Christian one, not the Shabbos of our Jewish siblings from whom we derived our holy day. So, even as I write this, I am aware of the Christian privilege that determined so much of the religious ethos in our country. And while remembering the Sabbath was and surely is important, it is also essential that we continue to remember the roots of our Christian faith.
The Rev. Gladys G. Moore is an ordained pastor in the ELCA and dean of religious and spiritual life at Mount Holyoke College in South Hadley, Mass. She wrote the 2010 Gather magazine summer Bible study, “Pray Always.”