If you want to get into a brisk, quickly-degenerating-into-anger, discussion, announce to a fundamentally Christian religious group at large,
“I like to sleep in on Sunday!
“God calls it a day of rest — and that’s what I do. I rest!”
Perhaps, like me, you lost something in the translation, but nowhere in the Bible do we find,
“Thou shalt attend worship service — and Sunday School — on the Sabbath.”
But then again, the Sabbath has always been a point of contention, starting with the actual day on which it is celebrated (although this is an inaccurate term in the light of the way that many people spend the day), and continuing on with what one can, and cannot, do.
This latter issue is one that Jesus, who was instrumental in creating the Sabbath in the first place, got into trouble about all the time. Mark 3 records one case out of many in which Jesus walks into the synagogue on the Sabbath, encounters a sick or hurting person, and heals them.
“Some of (the religious leaders) were looking for a reason to accuse Jesus, so they watched him closely to see if he would heal (the man) on the Sabbath.
“Then Jesus asked them, ‘Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save the life or to kill?’ But they remained silent.” (2,4)
Not surprisingly, Jesus in His compassion healed the man. Also not surprisingly, the religious leaders in their following of a father different from the one Jesus talked about, condemned the action. True to the ways and intent of the children of men, the Jewish leaders of Jesus’s day had all sorts of rules and regulations concerning what God meant when He said in Exodus 20:8-10,
“Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.
“Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your manservant or maidservant, nor your animals, nor the alien within your gates.”
How far could one walk before it became “work”? And if one were carrying something, how much could it weigh before it became a “load” and therefore “work”?
Such were the issues upon which the great men of theological thought bent their mental energy, and as they determined, so also were the people expected to obey. And while we can laugh today at the legalistic inflexibility of their obsessiveness, can we, really?
Because today, on Sunday (or Saturday, for some), it is an expectation that on this day of rest, one must arise and eat quickly, get the entire household dressed nicely, and sail forth toward church service (in a good mood) as a means of fulfilling the obligations of the Sabbath. This, we insist, is what it means to keep the day holy. This is the fulfillment of the Sabbath.
But in point of fact, what is the “obligation” of the day, which was set up before any law, before any 10 commandments, before any temple or sanctuary or church service?
“By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing, so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. And God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done.”
God, who is perfect, quite frankly does not need to rest — not the way we do — but in doing so, in setting aside one day out of seven as special and holy and blessed, He gave us a gift that many of us never use the way the Giver intended:
We are to rest.
Maybe we’ll go to church, and afterwards eat out at a restaurant — but if we do so, and we look down upon the waitress because she’s working and she “shouldn’t” be, are we quite possibly missing the whole point of the day?
And then maybe after we leave the restaurant (and a decent tip, one hopes) we head to the grocery store to buy snacks for our evening Bible study, and while we’re being checked out, we look at the checker (who should have been in church!) and say, “After work, why don’t you drop by our small group — because this is the Sabbath, you know, and God tells us we are to honor it,” are we, again, limiting ourselves and God by misinterpreting His intent?
If we, through the blessing of our particular job situation, are able to take the day off — to rest — it can hardly be pleasing to God if we judge others who are not able to have the day off, but would welcome a rest, if the schedule and their income permitted it.
Because that’s what the Sabbath is — a gift given to mankind — an encouragement to the children of men to take one day off, and give that day off to their manservants and maidservants (today we call them “employees”) and not spend our entire life, and seven days a week, focused upon making money.
The Sabbath is not about attending church, it is not about singing songs, it is not about looking down upon people who by choice or necessity are not sitting in the pews next to us –and although there is nothing wrong about attending church on the Sabbath, it is not ultimate intent of the day. The Sabbath is about resting, and being grateful for that rest.
Perhaps our prayer should be, not that everyone come to church on the Sabbath, but that everyone be able to enjoy, one day a week, a healing rest from our labors, a gift from our Father and God.