A sacred trust
"Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy." Exodus 20. 8
No one would argue against the fact that Sabbath observance has changed over the years. Any lingering controversy is over whether this has been for the better. Gone are the days which were dominated by worship and teaching and which, for children, meant sitting in on adult church in the morning, returning for Sunday School in the afternoon and possibly another dose of church in the evening. Now the shops are open and even serious Christians are glad when church is rendered more convenient by being pushed to the margins, either early in the morning or late on, leaving the bulk of the day free for recreation.
From one angle that seems reasonable. As a day of rest, surely we should commend whatever is not work? And among those who remember the old days, few would say they were good. For many they were tedious and gloomy and easily abandoned when more attractive forms of entertainment came along - like TV and, more recently, the internet, even Sunday shopping. But does all this really accord with spirit of the fourth commandment, or is it another example of human rebelliousness towards God, dressed up in the self-justifying argument of "moving with the times"?
It would be unfair to suggest that God's purpose in commanding that we "keep the Sabbath holy" was to spoil our fun, or impose a gloomy lockdown on our one window in a busy week. Quite the reverse, the 10 Commandments as a whole were given to a freshly emancipated nation of former slaves, in order to secure their precious freedom so recently gained through the grace and power of God. Keeping a day apart was both an assertion of that freedom and an opportunity to acknowledge its provider and defender. And it is that latter principle which is at stake when believers buy into the secular Sabbath. Filling our Sundays with "harmless" recreation is a dangerous fallacy if it means forgetting the very reason for that gift in the first place.
This is not a manifesto for reimposing compulsory church and Sunday school attendance. Not that either is bad where they are conducted faithfully, imaginatively and skilfully (and turgid in the extreme where they are not!). But it is an appeal to reconsider our approach to what should be a blessing, illuminating our whole week and bringing joy to those who enter into its spirit, as well as providing a source of encouragement to fellow believers, thus edifying and strengthening the community of faith and offering a bright and shining witness to society as a whole - of the privilege that is a day, set aside from ordinary labour for worship, rest and works of mercy. Enjoy!