By Shelley Neese
When I lived in Arizona from 2011 to 2014, I had a Messianic pastor who led an evangelical congregation. He was raised as a religious Jew and came to know Jesus as the Messiah right before his Bar Mitzvah. He was kicked out of his home when he told his parents about his newfound faith. He opted for homelessness over rejecting Jesus and never looked back, eventually reconciling with his family as well.
My husband I were talking with him one morning after the service about how he conducted Sabbath in his family life as a Jewish follower of Jesus who did not attend a Messianic congregation but instead found a home in the Christian church. We were genuinely curious because 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 and they met on Saturdays because 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 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 to bow together before the King. The Church elevated the role of communal learning as well. In addition, the Church impressed him for its consistency on the point of encouraging individual worship. There are zillions of different daily devotional tools out there and even if Christians struggle with the discipline of alone time in the Bible and in prayer, it is always the goal. What came next was what struck me. My pastor said that what he missed most about his Jewish upbringing was not communal or individual worship. That need was met in the Church. What he missed was family worship. That was where Christians struggled. That is what we had not yet built the tools for to pass down to each generation. 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 Messianic home. The meal, the gathering around the table, the songs, the prayers, and the rest. That was the Holy of Holies for his personal family life.
I have been thinking about that conversation 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 and cut off from our broader communities. In the case of parents with younger kids, like myself and many others, we are also cut off from any kind of solitary time. I have seen many people comment that the empty streets of Dallas or Washington DC look like Sabbath in Jerusalem. We have been forced into a multi-day, multi-week, and possibly multi-month 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, and its often a little chaotic, but it is beautiful in all its messiness. 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, for family worship. May we all grow closer to one another and to our Messiah. May we use this time to strengthen our weakness.