The Sabbath is a day of rest ordained by God; It is a holy gift!
- Ruth DeJager
When my Massachusetts sister-in-law invited a friend to attend a concert one Sunday at her church, the friend replied, Oh, but thats the day the new Wal-Mart opens in Southbridge.
Once the church, God, and the Sabbath were scheduled between daily farm chores and seasonal harvests - hence the customary 10 or 11 a.m. hour of worship. But today, no longer tied to milk and meat-producing livestock, nor toiling over unprocessed or unpicked foods, our industrialized, mall-mesmerized society fits in the sacred whenever the weather, week-end trip, or opening of a new wonder-store doesnt interfere.
But, we say in our defense, remember what Jesus told the Pharisees about their burdensome Sabbath regulations: The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath (Mark 2:27). Wouldnt He be pleased that we are enjoying his gift so much? Besides, who wants to go back to day-long church services and refraining from anything remotely resembling work or play? I can think of many examples of the latter.
My grandfather, who came to church for weddings, funerals, or when asked to play his violin, forbade playing games of any kind under HIS roof on Sunday. It was a long time before I could participate in a Sunday afternoon board game without being consumed with guilt.
My long-ago pastor wouldnt buy food, gas, or anything else on Sunday, because he thought all commercial establishments should be closed on that day. Then there was the visiting evangelist who had just eaten Sunday dinner at our house and offered to do the dishes for me so I could read "the Good Book as Im sure you do on Sunday afternoons. Oops, guilt again, knowing I would have enjoyed reading the newspaper or taking a nap instead.
I cant remember when church wasnt part of my life. If there were competing events, we went after church. When we traveled, there were other churches or times of quiet meditation during the day. Still, I often wonder: if I were not a church organist, or my parents hadn't taken me to church every Sunday from Pre-K to pre-adult, would I be as faithful in my church attendance as I am today? I think so, I hope so, but I make no claim. I thank my parents, however, for establishing a life-long practice that has added more to my life than I could ever express.
What I do after church, however, has changed entirely since the rigid years gone by. I read that newspaper now from section A to Z, take that nap, and even indulge in a board game or crossword puzzle without feeling the need to go to confession. Also, Sunday afternoons are often the only time during the week I can spend with family and friends.
But I am concerned about a change in our society. We Americans bend over backwards today to keep church and state separate - that is: not let church step one millimeter over the line where state begins. But when church gets repeatedly pushed back to make room for more state, more sport, and more store, theres very little outcry at all.
When Jesus rebuked the Pharisees for their petty Sabbath rules and told them the Sabbath was made for man, He wasnt suggesting the day be used entirely for selfish reasons, or that worship not be included in our schedule. I have come not to destroy the law, He said, but to fulfill it.
A holy Sabbath in Biblical times, or a worship opportunity in our own, is part of Gods plan for the physical and spiritual good of his people. On the Sabbath Day we are free not to work, not to over-schedule, and not to neglect the benefits of a rested, re-created body and mind.
That assembling of ourselves together (Hebrews 10:25) each Sunday is a powerful reminder that the world doesnt depend on us alone. God, a being far above our own limitations, and fellow worshippers who share our burdens and our joys, comfort and recharge us for the week ahead.
(Barbara Seaborn is a local free-lance writer. E-mail comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.)
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