Sabbath: light

As I wrote in this post last week, our family observes a simple Sabbath service every Friday night, inspired by our dear friends who began the practice to build community in our little midwestern town.

Each Shabbat, we follow a familiar liturgy before the meal. We light candles, ceremonially wash our hands, and share bread and wine or juice in a manner similar to holy communion. This short liturgy is a version of the Passover Seder, when Jews observe the liberation of their ancestors from slavery in Egypt. So many comparisons can be drawn between this story and our salvation through Jesus, and the Gospels relate how Jesus placed himself into the familiar ritual, giving new light to the age-old words.

When Jesus broke the matzo to distribute it to his disciples, he said, “This is my body, which is being given for you; do this in memory of me.” (Luke 22:19b) Was it at that moment that they recognized him as their promised savior, finally here to rescue them from oppression and slavery to sin? Their Passover tradition foreshadowed this, and they would have been well familiar with the sacred ritual.

At the beginning of both the Seder and Shabbat liturgies, two candles are symbolically lit, typically by the woman of the house. The Jewish Talmud tells us that these candles are lit to invite peace and harmony into the home. According to some, they represent unity between husband and wife. So we invite shalom bayit (“peaceful household” is a simple translation) as we light the two candles.

Here is another way I think about the candle lighting: just like the disciples of Jesus, we too must recognize him as the promised Passover lamb. They were illuminated to his Lordship and to the reality that he was their spiritual savior, rather than a political one (as some Jews had assumed the messiah would be). “In him was life,” says the book of John, “and the life was the light of mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not suppressed it.” (John 1:4-5)

After all this time, the promised savior was come. We didn’t know we needed a savior until he came — we have to be made aware of our sinful nature before we can repent and accept his deliverance.

“Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized that they were naked.” (Genesis 3:7a)

Perhaps the light symbolizes the revelation of our need for reconciliation with God. Before we can repent and enter into Sabbath rest, we must acknowledge our sinful condition, and prepare our hearts to receive his grace.

We bless you, Lord our God, King of the universe, who has given us Jesus, the light of the world. Thank you that whoever follows you will never walk in darkness, but have the light of life.