And on the seventh day, they rested.

Near Lions Gate Entrance

On Shabbat, parts of Jerusalem seem to stand still. For religious Jews, taking a day to rest is the essence of obedience. (William Haun photo)

logo 12 daysThen came Saturday.

There had been a furious rush to put the body of Jesus in a tomb late on Friday afternoon. The gospel writers repeatedly stress that it was the “Day of Preparation,” and anyone who’s ever been around an Orthodox Jewish community understands the meaning.

Families that are serious about taking 24 hours off have a lot of work to do if it’s going to happen.

You want hot coffee on Saturday morning? Prepare it Friday and keep it warm all night.

You want to read by lamp light at some point during the day? You’ll need to turn the light on – and leave it on – or figure out how to have a Kosher timer do the job for you. Flipping a light switch is “work,” and thereby not allowed.

You want to spend Shabbat with family or at a resort? Get there before the sun goes down, and have everything ready for 24 hours of rest. That’s going to take some forethought. That’s going to take some work!

What about food? You want breakfast or lunch on Saturday? Can’t prepare it then. That’s why you’ll prepare it on Friday, the day of preparation.

It’s been like that for centuries. It was that way the weekend Jesus was crucified.

Jesus and the disciples, along with the rest of the nation, celebrated Passover on Thursday night. Actually, once the sun set, the Jewish world called that evening “Friday.” Jesus was arrested that night, hurriedly tried in a sham court and sentenced to death before most of the community was even awake.

Because of the approaching sunset and arrival of Shabbat, Pilate allowed that the three men on crosses would have their legs broken. In the most twisted of reasoning, this would hasten their deaths and thereby preserve the sanctity of the Sabbath. Jesus, however, was already dead. A spear in the side confirmed it. Nicodemus and Joseph hurriedly prepared the body for burial and laid Jesus in Joseph’s tomb, still under construction at the time.

The stone was rolled in front of the entrance, darkness overcame the city, and Jerusalem rested.

You know some of the people who refused to travel or perform any forbidden task that Saturday.

Simon Peter was one. Andrew another. James and John and every other disciple except Judas, who was dead.

Mary Magdalene observed the Sabbath. Mary the mother of Jesus, likewise.

Even Jesus was perfectly still.

Jesus argued so much with the rule-keepers about the Sabbath, maybe we’ve gotten the idea that Jesus didn’t keep the Sabbath.

But he did. He was in the synagogue every Shabbat. Sometimes he actually healed someone who had come to the synagogue or the Temple, someone daring to pray that God might provide a miracle. Jesus didn’t like the way all the man-made rules had taken the joy out of the holiest day of the week. As he did in so many areas of life, he modeled the very heart of what it was to love God on a day of rest.

I don’t think it’s an accident that during the Friday-Saturday-Sunday stretch of the Week of Passion, there’s only silence on Shabbat. It was the same the week before, when Jesus had rested in the home of Lazarus, Mary and Martha. It would be the same the next week, too. And the next. Put a timeline on all the events around the cross, and you’ll find a 24-hour absence of activity around every Sabbath.

No kidding, the followers of Jesus who saw the crucifixion were more confused than ever about the circumstances swirling around them by the time the stone was rolled in front of the tomb.

But they weren’t confused about obeying God.

It was instinctive. It was something they’d trained their hearts and minds to do. It was something they would always do. Shabbat was part of who they were as God’s people.

Perhaps we should put it another way. Obedience was part of who they were as God’s people.

The reward for obedience?

It’s unspeakably amazing. Wonderful. Indescribable, even.

For if all of those heartbroken people had decided God wasn’t worth the worship after the worst day of their lives … if they’d trashed the one act of worship they’d faithfully kept on all the other days, all the good days … if they’d turned their back on the God Who had allowed their hearts to break on that dark Saturday …

… They would have missed Sunday morning.

Previously: And on the seventh day, they rested.