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Keeping it holy

"Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy." Exodus 20. 8

Saturday is the Jewish sabbath. Christians meet on Sunday, which is the first day of the week. So where does that leave us in regard to the fourth commandment? Well, if we have learned anything about navigating the finer points of church law, it is surely that we should avoid legalism in favour of concentrating on the spirit of the law. In other words, we need not do anything out of blind habit but, using the gift of discernment that God has given us, we may apply the commands of Scripture faithfully and compassionately.

Early Christians continued to observe the Sabbath on Saturday because they were all Jews. But, in deference to Jesus' rising on Sunday, the first day of the week, they got up early to celebrate before they went to work. As gentiles came on board, the significance of Saturday waned, as Sunday became the preferred day for Christian worship. So where does that leave us and the Sabbath now?

The spirit of the fourth commandment appears to be: first, that one day in seven should be reserved as special because it reflects God's own rhythm in creation; second, that keeping this seventh day as "holy" means setting it apart from normal use, so that we can enjoy the leisure to rest and worship; third, that this is a privilege for everyone, not simply a favoured few; fourth, that, as far as possible, this should be a shared exercise, bringing the whole community together as a sign of the permanent Sabbath that we look forward to in God's new creation.

I do not think I am alone in being haunted by the gloomy Sundays of youth. Yet, rather than getting hung up on whatever experience of heavy-handed sabbatarianism we may have had to endure, how are we going to rediscover the Sabbath as a source of joy, an opportunity to celebrate the hope we share and to offer the world a glimpse of the freedom we have in Christ?

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