Sunday, July 24, 2022

The Sabbath Queen

A long time ago, my grandma said that we welcome the sabbath as a queen. I used to think this was just her special way of viewing the day of rest. But as it turns out, Judaism has been welcoming Queen Shabbat at least since Jesus walked our earth. Probably longer.

This royal title for the sabbath captured my attention recently. I was writing an article about Judaism's "farewell-to-shabbat" ritual (link below), and - to be honest - I hadn't thought about this majestic moniker in ages. But when I ran across it - in my grandma's cookbook, no less - it stirred my curiosity, and I leaned in to learn more. Now I'm in absolute awe of the whole thing, as both a Jew and a Jesus-follower.

The way it all started is fascinating. So I'll start at the beginning. The very beginning. The seventh day. 

That very first day of divine rest was so significant, that God commanded us to observe it, too. Observe it like Him, and with Him. Each and every week, this day of rest marks the separation of the ordinary and the holy, the secular and the sacred. And in Judaism, we welcome this day of rest with joy and thanksgiving and a celebratory meal - in the same way that the ancients welcomed monarchs into their midst. And so "Queen Shabbat" became a personification of this sacred majesty among us each sabbath.

But that's just the beginning. 

You see, Jewish tradition explains that, after the sin in the garden, God withdrew His physical presence as the world became fractured and broken. But in His grace, on every sabbath, God's Shekinah - His Spirit - tangibly descends into our homes while we abide in His holy rest. Queen Shabbat became known as the one who accompanied the Spirit down from heaven. During Shabbat, she is crowned by the people's prayers (which she later carries back up to heaven) and in return, she adorns us with restoration as we rest in God's Spirit.

No wonder we welcome Queen Shabbat like royalty! She heralds the arrival of God's Shekinah into our very own homes. Bringing the Spirit to sojourn with us as we rest and worship. It sounds mystical, I know. But my shoulders relax and I exhale in wonder just picturing and pondering it. And isn't that what we are supposed to do as we enter holy rest? To rest and to  wonder and to marvel at the King of Heaven.

Now, mind you, we don't only welcome Queen Shabbat with great fanfare, we also make a fuss over ushering her back toward heaven as the sabbath slips away. It's called Melevah Malchah, literally "escorting the queen," and it is a parade of the senses, filled with music and food and light and beauty. 

In fact, we say goodbye to Queen Sabbath with an even greater flourish than when she arrived. Not because we're happy to see her go, but because we want the queen to know how much we treasured the Spirit dwelling with us. And how desperately we want her to return with the Spirit to rest with us once again. And we want the heavens to hear that we have celebrated sabbath rest. Not because we were commanded to, but because we delighted to.

Yet Queen Shabbat won't always leave. Because the teaching is that, when the Messiah arrives, Shabbat will descend and the Spirit will be be reunited permanently with God's people. And everything will be shabbat. Perfect and eternal rest and peace. Shalom.

Breathtaking. Literally. I literally caught my breath when I read about this teaching.

Because I know that the Messiah did arrive. He descended not just for a day, and not in a mystical, symbolic way. Jesus became the tangible personification of the sabbath among us. Shalom with flesh on. Born into humanity to show all of us the way to eternal rest. 

And then, when the resurrected Messiah ascended back into heaven, unlike Queen Shabbat whisking the Spirit back up with her, Jesus sent the Holy Spirit down to dwell with us. Not only for one day each week, but for every single day. And not simply to dwell among us, but to dwell within us. Forever. To rest, yes. But also to personally guide and teach and correct and encourage as we wander through this world. And to secure our deposit for that one day when the Messiah returns and all will be Sabbath. Eternal shalom. 

Until that glorious day, we are still called to enter into God's rest each week. To experience His Presence untethered from the stressors of our everyday lives. Breathing in the Father's grace. Celebrating the One who restores. Experiencing a foretaste of when everything will be sabbath. Yearning for that day when the Messiah will arrive once and for all, when God's tangible presence will dwell in our midst forever. Shabbat shalom for eternity...

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