Monday, November 18, 2013

The Unseen Benefit of the Sabbath

Since I am participating in the 40 Days of Blogging, sponsored by the Preachers’ Institute, and today’s topic is “Blogger’s Choice,” I have decided to blog about a topic I have been considering lately.

The idea of a Sabbath (day of rest) has its roots in the Old Testament Command of God for the People of God to work only six days and rest on the seventh, paralleling the “work” of Creation and rest on the seventh day.

Thus the heavens and the earth, and all the host of them, were finished. And on the seventh day God ended His work which He had done, and He rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had done. Then God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it, because in it He rested from all His work which God had created and made. – Genesis 2.1-3

Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the LORD your God. In it you shall do no work: you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your male servant, nor your female servant, nor your cattle, nor your stranger who is within your gates. For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and hallowed – Exodus 20.8-11

While the Sabbath is Saturday, the Holy Apostles established Sunday (the Lord’s Day) as the day to gather for the Divine Liturgy, forever linking Sunday, which is the Day of Resurrection, with the pinnacle day of Christian worship.

But every Lord's day gather yourselves together, and break bread, and give thanksgiving after having confessed your transgressions, that your sacrifice may be pure. But let no one that is at variance with his fellow come together with you, until they be reconciled, that your sacrifice may not be profaned. For this is that which was spoken by the Lord: In every place and time offer to me a pure sacrifice; for I am a great King, says the Lord, and my name is wonderful among the nations. – Didache of the Apostles to the Nations

However, the purpose of my blog today isn’t for the purpose of defending Sunday vs. Saturday, or even whether Christians should keep the Jewish Sabbath. My purpose, as implied in the title I have chosen for this post, is the UNSEEN benefit of a Sabbath, whether Jewish or Christian. Of course, this blog is dedicated to living a new life in Christ, and focuses upon the Christian life.

So what is the hidden benefit?

Living in the South, the deep South of South Carolina, I live in a town in which many business still close on Sundays. It was only in the past few years, where it became legal to sell/purchase alcohol on Sunday, and THAT was legitimized based upon the sales tax revenues that had increased associated with tourist income. Here in Florence, South Carolina, “Blue Laws” are still a fresh memory, and some still exist.

When the Jewish community kept the Sabbath, it wasn’t only the Jews who benefited with rest. The servants, whether Jews or not, and animals (not even human), were blessed, by the Commandment of God, with a day to rest from work. I don’t think we can take this reality too lightly. Still, the Jews had to care for and feed their work animals, without this “work” being considered a violation of the Sabbath. In fact this point was highlighted by our Lord in His rebuttal to the Pharisees who challenged His “right” to heal on the Sabbath.

And behold, there was a man who had a withered hand. And they asked Him, saying, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?" -- that they might accuse Him. Then He said to them, "What man is there among you who has one sheep, and if it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will not lay hold of it and lift it out? "Of how much more value then is a man than a sheep? Therefore it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath." – Matthew 12.10-12

We don’t have servants (technically speaking) and work animals have been replaced (at least in industrialized countries) with machines. Yet, we do have a working class (so-called blue collar workers) who accomplish much of the hard labor that the servants of old accomplished. So, when a society keeps a Sabbath today, those workers who may be Christians or may not be, are blessed with a day they can rest and spend time in prayer. If they choose not to pray, at least they can strengthen their family ties, a point which would result in a near-universal benefit to society.

You might be asking why this is on my mind lately…well, there is a “movement” making its way through the internet to stop shopping on Thanksgiving Day, as a sign of protest against our commercial-driven society. As a part of this discussion, many on the “shopping is ok” crowd suggest that workers may want the extra income by working a holiday shift, and therefore receiving holiday pay.

I think the deeper issue of working on the Sabbath is DIRECTLY related to the pressure society places on keeping up with the Jones’. We have created society which elevates wealth while casting doubt on any “holy roller” who would choose to stay home or close his business on Sunday, “just” to spend time in Church or with his family. The pressure to pursue happiness (guaranteed in the founding documents of our Nation) has been equated with pursing wealth.

It is the pursuit of wealth that becomes the issue. There is a saying in business, at least the restaurant business as it has been explained to me, which states, “If you can’t make it in six, you won’t make it in seven.” Living in the South where many restaurants are still closed on Sunday, except the national chains, I have seen this saying hold true. The possession of wealth is not considered sinful; rather it is the pursuit of wealth which creates sin. The Lord says, “Seek first the kingdom…,” rather than seeking wealth.

So what about those who “have” to work on Sunday vs. those who desire to work on Sunday? With the exception of professions such as police/fire/EMT/nurses/ER Doctors, etc I would be hard placed to identify a single profession that, if closed on a Sunday, would bring our society to a screeching halt. So, unless someone works in such a profession, the only need to work on Sunday is a financial one.

I’m not about to question each person’s motives for desire to work on Sunday. I will, however, point out that in MOST cases, the need to work on Sunday is either a perception, OR a result of poor financial priorities in the past. Both can be corrected through repentance, prayer, fasting, and almsgiving to help reprioritize life to coincide with living a new life in Christ.

BUT if Christians continue to expect services on Sunday, such as after Sunday brunch or Sunday afternoon shopping trips to the mall, simply because we know there are workers willing to work on Sunday, then we continue to ignore the hidden benefit of the Sabbath; the benefit that the Lord specified in the Old Testament, when He commanded that ALL work stop. The least we could do is allow workers time to rest for the busy week ahead.

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