Common in different religious circles is the concern of “can the Sabbath be any day of the week?” and “What day is the Sabbath?” Depending on people’s traditions, people are impassioned on many sides about this topic.
I’m sure for many of you, we go through different seasons in our lives and our schedules and non-negotiables e.g. work, volunteering are hard fixtures in our schedules. A question arises when we weave through such seasons: “How do I practice Sabbath now?”
I take a pragmatic (and I think Biblical) approach to Sabbath in that I take Sabbath whenever I can.
For those of you wrestling with the question, I want to, in this article, demonstrate why you should take this approach and why I think it will benefit your life.
Table of Contents
When is the Sabbath for different people?
Let’s first set the playing field by asking the question-when do people commonly practice Sabbath?
Depending on your religious location and tradition, you may have strong opinions around you.
When Jewish People Traditionally Practice Sabbath
In one of my favorite books on the subject, American rabbi Abraham Heschel writes:
There are really two kinds of Shabbat experiences: those of the fall and winter months, when the Sabbath begins around four o‘clock on Friday afternoons and ends around five o’clock on Saturday, and those of the spring and summer, when the Sabbath starts at eight or eight-thirty and ends at nine o’clock or even later. In the winter months, our Friday nights continued long after dinner as my parents sat at the table, drinking tea and reading. During the spring months, the long Shabbat afternoons became the peaceful and quiet focus of the day.
For him and the lives of countless other Jewish people, the Sabbath is a holy time that starts Friday sundown and ends on Saturday sundown, depending on daylight savings.
I appreciate the richness of Jewish culture where it is a culturally uniform expectation. It is an unspoken and celebrated aspect of being Jewish that extends thousands of years. In case you didn’t know, Jewish people were visibly known for their practices, the Sabbath being one of them.
Josephus, a famous Jewish historian, even records that Jerusalem was captured by Ptolemy because he strategically waited until the Sabbath to attack. He knew that they would refuse to fight on the day of rest.
Whether you agree or disagree with their actions, I think such a reverence and commitment to a sacred practice is commendable.
When 7th Day Adventists Celebrate Sabbath
The 7th Day Adventists are a denomination of Christianity who wanted to draw away from mainline Protestant Christians and more closely align themselves with Jewish understandings of Sabbath timing.
Like traditional Judaism, 7th day Adventists celebrate Sabbath on Friday evening until Saturday evening.
The adventist website writes this (link to their website) in their description of Sabbath:
If the Sabbath is to be observed properly, the entire week should be programmed in such a way that every member will be ready to welcome God’s holy day when it arrives. This means that the adult family members will plan so that all household tasks–the buying and preparing of food, the readying of clothes, and all the other necessities of everyday life–will be completed before sundown Friday. The day of rest should become the pivot around which the wheel of the entire week turns. When Friday night approaches and sundown is near, adults and children will be able to greet the Sabbath with tranquility of mind, with all preparation finished, and with the home in readiness to spend the next 24 hours with God and with one another.
What I appreciate about the Seventh-day Adventists, unlike my own upbringing, is a reverence for sacred rhythms as it relates to helping normal people experience God.
When Most Christians Practice Sabbath
I am part of the broad Christian population when it comes to my formation of understanding of Sabbath.
Sabbath for most Christians is Sunday all day.
However, because our faith is (ironically) anti-tradition, it has been my experience that we are terribly bad at practicing Sabbath.
Given how busy and ornate Sunday services are, I find it ironic that we consider the day of Sabbath being on the same day as our worship services, to be restful. I know for most people, Sabbath on Sunday just isn’t.
When is the Sabbath According to the Bible?
This is an easy answer for me and it revolves around the resurrection of Jesus. All four gospels in one shape or form mention that Jesus was resurrected after the Sabbath.
Here’s a snippet of what I’m referring to. Mark 16 writes:
When the Sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. 2 And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb.
Inferring from here, and knowing Jesus resurrected on Sunday, we know that the writers already assume that most of their readers understand that Sabbath ended on Saturday evening.
This lines up well with Jewish understanding that the Sabbath was on Friday evening until Saturday evening.
So, that’s easy–the Bible assumes that the Sabbath is on Friday to Saturday evening.
However, as I made mention in the beginning, I don’t think it’s that simple, nor a hard and fast rule. I think while the Bible assumes that the Sabbath is during that timeframe, it doesn’t prescribe that has to be that timeframe.
I think we are fortunate enough that the Bible is flexible enough and is future-proof enough that it considers the rhythms of modernity in mind such that the modern person can practice Sabbath, yes, any day of the week they so choose.
Let me explain.
Why the Sabbath Can be Any Day of the Week
I am a strong proponent that the Sabbath can be any day of the week.
It starts with this (secular) saying that I’ll explain in a moment.
What I mean when I say that is people argue over the methods of how to do things. There will always be fads and different approaches to things.
People that don’t understand the principles that govern those methods will always be caught up in a fad.
I learned this principle in working out and exercise.
People argue about the methods e.g. strength training, lifting a certain times a week, the best workouts for strength. But when someone understands the principle that govern all the methods, they begin to see that none of the methods are a holy grail in themselves. They can see how the methods pull and push different levers to accomplish different things.
Back to Sabbath.
Much like the Pharisees who focused on the method of Sabbath, they missed the principle of Sabbath. They focused on punishing people for what they did on the Sabbath and didn’t have the mindset of why the Sabbath was practiced in the first place.
My point is this:
The question of when you should practice Sabbath isn’t as important of a question as “What is Sabbath mean to accomplish” or “Why did God design Sabbath?”
I want to avoid all the religious arguments for why you should practice Sabbath this day or another day because to me, the arguments are moot compared to the life and practice of Sabbath.
I think of two reasons to bolster why I think this is important and correct.
Jesus cared more about the principles of Sabbath than the method of Sabbath
I think it’s important to understand what did Jesus say about the Sabbath. Because based on this passage it doesn’t really matter what day is the Sabbath.
Let me show you the passage I’m talking about.
One Sabbath Jesus was going through the grainfields, and as his disciples walked along, they began to pick some heads of grain. The Pharisees said to him, “Look, why are they doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath?” He answered, “Have you never read what David did when he and his companions were hungry and in need? In the days of Abiathar the high priest, he entered the house of God and ate the consecrated bread, which is lawful only for priests to eat. And he also gave some to his companions.” Then he said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.”
I break it down more in another article (Link here) but let me explain it quickly here.
The Pharisees are chastising Jesus’ disciples because they are picking grain on the Sabbath. At this point, Sabbath has become a boring religious rite full of lifeless and strict rules about what one can and can’t do on the Sabbath.
So they ask Jesus, “Why are your disciples doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath?”
Jesus’ reply is so fascinating.
He quotes them a story of when King David went into the temple to eat bread from the holy temple. As you may or may not know, everything in the temple was considered extremely sacred and only those ordained in the priesthood could handle those things.
Yet Jesus used this as a model example of how we should approach Sabbath.
Jesus is, in effect, saying: Yes, David broke the law. But that’s not the point. The point of the law is to give life. And because David chose life, he was in the right, regardless of what the temple laws were.
The Pharisees were having their mind blown by now.
Jesus is illustrating an important part about Sabbath (even all of God’s laws): They are meant to give us life.
He continues on–we are not slaves of the Sabbath; Sabbath is a slave to us. What this means is that the practice is meant to serve us.
It was meant to give us life, gives us rest, give us peace, give us joy. And if we’re stuck on the method of Sabbath in such a way that takes away from that, then we should absolutely change the methods such that it actually serves us.
Jesus often talks about this spiritual practice of making them work for us. He talks about having wineskin that matches wine. The point of that saying is that the practices have to work for you.
This is why I think we should have the freedom to choose when we should practice the Sabbath.
If you’re reading this, you’re more than likely a product of modernity (unless you’re Amish), and are constantly juggling the busyness and fluidity of life’s rhythms. The truth is that we don’t live in a religious world which structures its social rhythms according to religious tradition.
In the absence of their commitment to practicing Sabbath and in the spirit of making Sabbath work, we should do everything in our power to make Sabbath work within the rhythms of society that God has placed us in. And yeah, that means being able to be flexible to when Sabbath is.
Paul Affirms This In the New Testament
To the question of “when is the Sabbath?”, prominent writer of much of the New Testament Paul would probably say, “It doesn’t matter.”
In Colossians he is wrestling with the church over religious practices that produce godliness and not, particularly asceticism.
Of interest, he writes something profound. He says in Col 2:16
Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ.
He thinks the astute observance of religious duties are a shadow of the real deal. In other words, he reiterates the point that Jesus is making. It’s not about the method of Sabbath, it’s about the principle of Sabbath.
In his perspective, the reality is “Christ”, which in the context of Colossians, is the reality of Jesus living inside of us (Col 1:20). In other words, religious practice is more about walking in close personal communion with Jesus and following his leadership over our lives rather than following abstract rules that don’t serve everyone.
Society Can’t Collectively Sabbath if It’s on the Same Day
One of the blindspots that we have in considering making Sabbath unilaterally the same day is how can society function if it’s the same day?
For the modernist, the Sabbath can involve a large range of life-giving activities. Yet how can they, say, avoid cooking if restaurants are closed because everyone is practicing Sabbath on the same day?
There is a collective pragmatism to being able to choose the day of rest because we give our society flexibility in continuing to run such that people that need the Sabbath on certain days can still have access to services that allow them to Sabbath well.
I think in making Sabbath less about what day we practice it, and more about just choose a day, society can continue to run seamlessly knowing that we have created the margins so that anyone within that society can Sabbath as they see fit.
To me, this is a much more inclusive and pragmatic approach to Sabbath that choosing to keep Sabbath on the same day.
Make Sabbath flexible so that the entire Society can take a Sabbath whenever they want to.
How to Choose Which Day to Sabbath
I wish I could, but I can’t get into the principles of Sabbath.
If you’re interested, I’m writing a book talking about these principles that I’m so excited for you to read.
For the sake of time, I’ll just say that the principles of Sabbath are meant for re-creation. In the time of Sabbath, God is going deep into our hearts, helping us to see our lives afresh, and aligning us with his sacred hands in a rhythm that allows us to be truly and eternally productive.
I know that’s a lot. Read my book to understand more.
But let’s pretend that you understand the principles. How then do you go about choosing which day to Sabbath?
I think there are several factors to think about when choosing a day.
Choose a day where you have at least 2+ hours of undisturbed time.
I think more important to the length of Sabbath is the quality of Sabbath.
Yes, only certain things can happen when length is provided to the time. But more importantly, it is choosing a day of the week where you know you can be undisturbed,
It’s not Sabbath if you’re working, running errands, or someone is expecting you to be there.
Neither is it Sabbath if you’re on your phone or playing video games.
Sabbath, to me, is a sacred time of connecting with God in a way that is transformative and creational. For such a purpose does it take time and focus.
Choose a time where you have 2+ hours.
Choose a day where you can be at a different place.
Do not do Sabbath at home.
I know it sounds strange. But I think most of you understand that home is not a place to be truly restful. There are chores, there are messes, you are stuck in a context where you would be thinking only about that context.
Get outside. Go somewhere else.
For me, the most productive Sabbath is when you are outside your context. Only in those places can God begin to speak to you about the various contexts that he is wanting to speak to you about.
Choose a day where you can be at different pace.
Choose a day where you can go somewhere where you can operate a pace different than your normal pace.
That most definitely means going to a place where it is slower.
Part of what’s difficult about people entering Sabbath is often they are in contexts where the pace of life is so busy.
Choose a day where you have time to drive somewhere that can afford a different pace.
How I Practice Sabbath
To give you some insight into how Sabbath is practiced in my household, let me explain my routine.
On any given season, I understand what my hard commitments are. Being a parent (I know there are some parents reading this), I then plan my logistics such that I can be somewhere else for several hours on a day of the week.
What this means is that I ask my wife and/or babysitter to watch the kids for some hours so that I can go and be alone.
I typically head over to a garden near my house with lots of sitting and walking. People think such a place is boring, but once you understand the principles of Sabbath, oh my, it is the most powerful place of transformation that you can think of.
I will spend hours there, lost in prayer, lost in thought, lost in divine reflection over my life knowing and believing that God will speak powerfully to me there.
It doesn’t what matter what day the Sabbath is for me because I am reaping the fruit of what the Sabbath was meant to provide: recreation and restoration.
If you want to hear more about the principles that I think make for a powerful Sabbath, be sure to check out my book (coming soon).
My joy and the aim of this site is to help readers go deeper in their Christian faith.
I hope in hearing this you understand that the day isn’t so important on the day of rest as much as the principle of Sabbath.
How are you practicing Sabbath? Does this change your understanding of how to approach this sacred time?
Leave your thoughts and comments in the comments below!