My Sundays are very special to me, and I guard them jealously.
I was raised in a culture where most shops were closed on Sundays, and those that were open had restrictions on what they could sell – for instance, the newsagents could sell sweets and newspapers but not cigarettes. The pubs (Bars) were open, but the off-licenses (Liquor Stores) were not. Supermarkets could sell food but not alcohol. The list was tortuous at best.
Things have changed; on my last visit to England I was appalled to find that the “Sunday trading” laws had been repealed and all stores where selling everything, seven days a week. What a shame.
Over here, of course, we have had a seven-day culture for quite some time, which is also a shame. Perhaps the most startling change of all is that many of the Christian Businesses (such as Christian bookstores) have recently started opening on Sunday, which seems like seven shades of wrong to me. Perhaps they are more concerned with the “Business” part than with the “Christian” part.
I do not believe that human beings were designed to go flat out seven days a week – and scientists agree. But how do you define rest, and what kind of rest do we need?
It is not a religious issue, though most major religions have some kind of day of rest It is not a legislative issue either – you cannot force people to take one day off a week, even if it is for their own good – particularly if they work in a vital service (imagine if the E.R. closed on Sundays!) or need the money. Nor can you easily decide what business may or may not be decided on the Sabbath.
As for me, the only point of reference I have is the Bible – and it has some surprises in store for us.
For instance, the first time the Sabbath is mentioned is in Exodus 16:23 – before the Ten Commandments were given – where it says “Tomorrow is a day of solemn rest, a holy Sabbath to the LORD…” (ESV).
Moving on to the Ten Commandments, all we have to go on is “Remember the Sabbath Day and keep it Holy”. The Levites then came up with more than six hundred ways to break the Sabbath… but that’s a whole ‘nother story.
Let see now… the word “Holy” means “set apart”, and the word “sabbath” comes from shabbat, which means “rest”. So what do we have? A day of rest that is to be set apart from other days. Oh, and there is no mention of which day it should be. It seems that the interpretation of this commandment is left to us – and that is what makes it so hard.
What is surprising – and what most people miss – is that there is no mention of church or worship. This is why I take exception to the Ten Western Commandments’ “Git yerself to Sunday Meetin‘”; it gives a false impression, as well as being scripturally inaccurate.
I’ll say it again, just to be clear: The Sabbath is not about church! For most of us, there is nothing wrong in combining the two, but it is worth noting that many Preachers take Monday off as a Sabbath; for many of them Sunday is the toughest day of the week!
So what is this Sabbath thing and why do we need it? The vast majority of the people in the world never take a vacation, and seem to do well enough without it; the concept of “Vacation” (along with “Retirement” and “Health Insurance”) seems to be a Western invention. Yet I have found that taking one day off each week helps to remove the need for a vacation, and perhaps that is the idea – treat the Sabbath as a mini-vacation; a little time off from the push and pull of our culture. Jesus concurred “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath” (Mark 2:27 ESV).
For me that means staying away from the workaday (messing around with computers, blogging, yard work) and doing the things that enrich my spirit (reading, writing, playing the piano). We have agreed that as a rule we will not shop or eat out on the Sabbath; not because they are on a “Thou-Shalt-Not” list, but because in doing so we are encouraging shops and supermarkets to open on Sunday, and thus forcing their staff to break the Sabbath.
There are two areas I am unsure about:
- Watching TV (we watch very little during the week, but our standards for Sunday viewing tend to eliminate most of the dross that passes for “entertainment” these days – we are currently watching our way through all five series of Babylon 5 on DVD)
- Playing computer games (since I never find time any other day, this would be logical for the Sabbath, but I’m not sure it is good for me).
Another thing that we try to do is to have the Sabbath start on Saturday evening. While this seems odd given the importance of Saturday night to our culture, it is based on the premise that by Sunday evening most of us have our heads in “Monday” mode (either in anticipation or dread), so the Sabbath needs to start twenty-four hours before that happens. Apparently the Jews have known about this for millennia…
You might have noticed that I rarely if ever blog on a Sunday, but I do so today. In my defense, however, it should be said that this was written a week ago last Friday.
Whatever you do, enjoy the day… and keep it holy.
Now reading “The Lost Supreme: The Life of Dreamgirl Florence Ballard” by Peter Benjaminson