Should we keep Sunday special?

Rev Sue preached this sermon on Wednesday 18 January. Here it is for you again:

When I was at school I had a friend, Isobel, who had a Scottish mother. I knew that the family went to church every Sunday. We talked about how we found Sundays. My parents viewed it as their day of rest and would sit and doze after lunch, and I would do my homework. Isobel said that she wasn’t allowed to do homework on a Sunday – or anything that constituted work. Nor did they watch television. The debate in their house was whether knitting was work. Since Isobel enjoyed it she viewed it as a leisure activity, and argued that it was OK to knit in a Sunday. I was quite taken aback.

I expect most of you had childhoods in the days when all the shops were closed, and there was very little to do on a Sunday. For many it meant going to church twice, or even three times. It wasn’t a day for housework – hanging out washing on a Sunday, for example, would draw huge amounts of disapproval.

But times have changed and Sunday is little different from Saturday for most people. The roads are busy with cars on their way to shopping centres, and if the bigger shops close early, there are always the smaller shops to sell us what we need.

The Sabbath is enshrined in one of the 10 commandments:

“Remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy. Six days you shall labour and do all your work. But the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and consecrated it.”

In today’s gospel reading Jesus is making the point that the Sabbath should be used positively, not just be subject to a series of prohibitions. What matters is not what you don’t do, but what you use that time for. The question is, how can we obey the spirit of the fourth commandment without being totally out of step with the people around us?

I would say there are three aspects of keeping the Sabbath. Firstly, there is the opportunity to worship. You don’t need to be told that that need not be on a Sunday, of course, because this a Wednesday congregation with a life of its own. Many churches these days are finding their Sunday congregations dwindling, while a midweek evening becomes more popular. What matters is that each week we find some time to worship.

The second thing is rest. God worked for 6 days and then rested. We all need to build time into our lives for our families, our hobbies and for whatever we find relaxing. Paradoxically that can be harder when you have retired than before, because there is no separation of workdays from weekends, so our responsibilities can creep into every day. The phone is always on, and we feel the need to respond.

And that brings me to the last point. Most human beings thrive on having a daily and weekly routine. Not a rigid one that can’t be broken – I always remember my mother-in-law’s friend who lived alone but couldn’t come out on a Wednesday because she changed the bed and cleaned the bedroom that day! But we benefit some sort of underlying structure to our lives so there is a rhythm of work, rest and worship.

In the Old Testament we find rigid laws that strictly laid down what could or couldn’t be done on the Sabbath. Jesus challenged that focus on the rules in favour of a flexibility that allowed love and mercy the last word. But there remain those basic human needs of worship, rest and structure that observing the Sabbath ensured were met. We need to find that rhythm in our own lives.

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