• Canon Kevin Stone

The importance of Sabbath rest

Last week, our Rector Paul, raised the importance of how we make use of the Sabbath Day. For Christians the Sabbath is the Lord's Day, which is Sunday. Is this any different from any of the other days of the week? For many people, Sunday may be very much like Saturday, when we do not have to go to work or be up early to send the children off to school.

When I was growing up there was a very distinct difference between Sunday and all the other days of the week. Sunday was the day when we would go to church. Often in the afternoon we would spend time visiting friends or relatives. It was also a day when my father, who was an avid gardener, would not spend time in the garden. He would not even allow my mother to wash clothes or use the sewing machine. He had been brought up on very strict Sabbatarian lines. Was this right?

As young parents with growing children involved in various sports, Anne and I found it a challenge to make Sunday a different day from other days. It was particularly difficult if a sporting team wanted to practise or play on Sundays. In the end we agreed that if a team practised regularly on a Sunday we would not allow our children to belong to that particular sport. However, if an event from time to time was scheduled on a Sunday, when the team they belonged to practised on other days, rather than let the team down we would allow our children to play on an occasional Sunday. Was this reasonable or not?

Many Christians take as their model the decision by the Scottish Christian, Eric Liddell not to compete in the 1924 Paris Olympics in his favoured 100 metre race because it was run on a Sunday. His story was made famous in the movie Chariots of Fire. He refused to run because he believed that competing on Sunday would not bring glory to God. This was despite strong opposition from the Prince of Wales. Instead Liddell found a more demanding race, the 400 metre, which was set on another day. He entered that race and amazingly won a gold medal. Was this a reward for his decision not to compete on a Sunday?

In my lifetime the observance of making Sunday a different day from all other days has almost disappeared. Now, all forms of entertainment can be procured on Sundays. Supermarkets, theatres as well as pubs are all open. Does it matter?

The most common complaint against Jesus made by the religious leaders of his time was that he broke the Sabbath. The law was clear about Sabbath observance: ‘Remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy …you shall not do any work in it’ (Exodus 20:8-10). But many definitions of work arose over time. There were rules, for example, about what could be placed on a stove which was still hot from Friday. Jesus accused the Pharisees of turning the law into heavy burdens for the people. He believed that it was right to heal on the Sabbath, whereas the Pharisees regarded such an act as work. His was a ‘user-friendly’ approach to the Sabbath.

Let us resolve in our heart and mind how best to observe Sunday. Let us enter into that rest which will help us in our worship of God and what is essential for the rest and recreation of our bodies.


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