By Shelley Neese—
When I lived in Arizona I had a Messianic pastor who led an otherwise evangelical congregation. He was raised in a religious Jewish home and found Jesus, his Messiah, right before his Bar Mitzvah. He was kicked out of his home when he told his parents about his newfound faith and actually opted for homelessness over rejecting Jesus.
My husband I were talking with him one morning over donuts before church about how he conducted Sabbath in his family life as a Jewish follower of Jesus who did not attend a Messianic congregation but a Christian church. When we had lived in Israel for three years, the Sabbath had been very easy to keep. We attended the only Christian/Messianic congregation in the town of Beer Sheva. That congregation met on Saturdays. Sunday was a regular work/school day. We walked to church because there were no buses. We did not participate in commerce because there were no stores open. We were students but we didn’t study that day because it was normalized with no one else studying. We basically were keeping Sabbath in the beginning not out of special conviction but out of normalization. It was only once we came back to the states and started our family that we had to work out what Sabbath would look like in our family living outside of the land.
That is why we had questions for our pastor. We wanted to know what it looked like for him. What he said has always stuck with me. He said what he loved about the Christian church was their ability to worship God communally. The Church had a long history of bringing many people together of many different tongues and tribes and all bowing before the king. We elevated the role of communal learning as well. The Church was also consistent on the point of encouraging individual worship. If you have never heard a sermon about the value of daily prayer and devotion than you have been hiding under a rock. There are zillions of different daily devotional tools out there and even if Christians struggle with the discipline of daily time spent in the Bible and in prayer, it is a goal always that we are striving for. What came next was what struck me. My pastor said that what he missed most about his Jewish community and upbringing was family worship. Family worship. That was what Christians weren’t great at. That is what we had not yet built the tools for ourselves and the church.
In regards to our questions about how he kept Sabbath, he said that Sabbath was the way he had been taught to do family worship and the way he continued to maintain family worship in his home. The meal, the gathering around the table, the songs, and the prayers. That was the Holy of Holies for his personal family life.
I have been thinking about that conversation many times these last few weeks as we walk through these uncertain times. During the Corona pandemic I am seeing that all of us in the Church have had to reinvent the wheels on our Sunday routines. We suddenly find ourselves with our families 24 hours a day, including the Sabbath. In fact, I have seen many people comment on the empty streets of Dallas or Washington DC that it looks like Yom Kippur in Jerusalem. We have been forced into a multi-day, multi-week Sabbath. In my own family life, I am trying to use this time to hone our skills in family worship. It isn’t always perfect, but it is beautiful and most importantly I feel God in my home in these moments. I encourage all of you in your family life to use this time for good. May we all grow closer to one another and to our Messiah.