Shabbat, Sabbath, and Lent: Religious Traditions of Christianity and Why They Are Important

What Is Shabbat?

In the language of the Jewish culture (Hebrew), the word for Sabbath is Shabbat (pronounced shuh-baat). In Jewish culture, work of all kinds stops for 25 hours from the sundown on Friday to sundown on Saturday. Special meals, prayers, gatherings, and services are performed over the course of those 25 hours, but the prep for them starts as early as midway in the week before them. You can read more about those traditions here.

What is Sabbath?

Like so many Jewish traditions, Shabbat celebrates God’s providence in the past. The Sabbath celebrates God’s providing and protecting hand throughout the past, present, and the future. Sabbath is also about God the Trinity (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit), and it was moved to Sunday for multiple reasons. According to this article from Christianity Today, it has been suggested that the Sabbath changed to Sunday as more people outside of the Jewish culture came to believe in Christ. To pick a day that was not tied to Jewish tradition alone, the early church chose to remember both the start of Creation and the resurrection of Jesus Christ by making the Sabbath on Sunday (since both happened on that day).

How Sabbath Differs

Shabbat and Sabbath are both a day off work to rest and draw closer to God. However, the Sabbath has far less traditional obligations in Christian culture. Most Christians just go to church on Sunday and are done with it. Others go out to eat or cook something special at home that they don’t normally have through the week. Still, others make intentional sacrifices–like going without tech devices for the day–to show reverence to God. In short, religious traditions for a Sabbath revolve around church attendance and personal convictions.

Where Do They Both Come From?

In the beginning, God created the Heavens and the Earth and everything in it. He did all this work in six days and rested on the seventh day. That seventh day of rest was later made into a rule for God’s people to follow:

Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns. For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.

Exodus 20:8-11, NIV

Why Sabbath Is Importantp

As Season 1, Episode 2 of The Chosen demonstrated, Sabbath Rest is about spending time intentionally off work and with loved ones and fellow believers to pursue the presence of God. It comes as an overflow of our act of faith and God’s gift of provision. In Exodus 14, Israel was rescued out of slavery in Egypt and sent into a “promised land” full of impossibilities. Every step into the new world took extraordinary Hebrews 11 kind of faith, and God rewarded them with protection (Exodus 13:12-22), food (Exodus 16:4), clothing (Deuteronomy 29:5), and conquerable land. Still we find ourselves fearful, wandering, questioning God, and reluctant to take even one day to think about our relationship to Him and try to get closer to Him.

Selah: Pause and Consider This

In Isaiah 43:2, God made His people this promise: “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze.”

In Exodus 14, God parted the Red Sea to help the Israelites escape the Egyptians, and he folded it in on and drown those that dared pursue them. In Joshua 3, God parted the waters again all the way down to dry land by carrying the Ark of the Covenant across a body of water. In Daniel 3, three men were thrown into a blazing hot fire for not worshiping a statue. A “fourth man” showed up in the fire and kept all of them from burning or even smelling of smoke. It was so miraculous that the King who threw them in the fire removed them and made a new law showing support and allegiance to the God able to do that miracle.

Does looking back on the God that did all of this make a difference in how you approach the impossible things in your life today? Does thinking about his past deeds help you desire to spend more time with him today? What gets in the way of you truly resting in the presence of God on your Sabbath? When you compare yourself to the characters in the show, are you tripped by your past like Mary? tied to religious rituals like Nicodemus? stuck in relational conflict like Matthew? or too afraid to stop working like Simon?

The Chosen Episode 2 from THE FATHER’S HOUSE on Vimeo.

What is Lent and the Liturgical Calendar?

At the time of writing this post, we are in the first week of Lent on the liturgical calendar. The liturgical calendar is a year-round cycle of events that helps Christians get into a rhythm of prayerful, thankful acknowledgment of God at work in their lives. The calendar transcends denominations because God didn’t make them; it focuses on specific events leading to the two most holy events in Christianity: Christmas and Easter.

Lent is a period of 40 days of fasting honoring what Jesus went through in the wilderness prior to Easter. It runs from March 2nd to April 16th and excludes Sundays so Christians can break their fast and celebrate their faith. Lent starts with Ash Wednesday, and on this day, many Christians put ash on their foreheads to remind themselves of how finite life is; we all return to dust eventually. For the next 40 days, Christians choose some food to avoid, and they become more intentionally prayerful and generous. They give to the needy more. They think about Christ more. They read more of the Bible and devotionals. It is a time to remember the suffering of Christ on the cross, examine our own hearts, and allow God to further shape us into the image of Christ we are meant to bear in this world.

Closing Thoughts

We have the right to take physical rest whenever and wherever we want to, but our souls only find rest in the presence of God. As we surrender to our need for Him, God calms our anxious minds and fills our reservoir with peace. Surrender is not a passive thing. Consider Matthew 11:28-30. The same God who said he would do whatever it takes to buy your ransom in Isaiah 43:2 also says you have a yoke and burden to bear (just not a heavy one).

What burdens have you allowed yourself to take on lately? What does the Bible have to say on those issues? Never take a thought as a truth in itself; always hold it up to the light of Truth by comparing it to the Gospel. More of what we hear in our heads is coming from a negative place not a scriptural one.

Consider joining Sacred Ordinary Days to help you get into a practice of communal living in God’s presence through the liturgical year. It can also help you to create a sustainable rhythm in your prayer and personal worship time as you learn to live in harmony with key events in your field of faith.