Remember the Sabbath Day and Keep It Holy
If Sunday was a day of rest, my kid brother and I reasoned, why did mom insist we had to dress in our “Sunday best” and go to church? Church was work; besides, we read in Exodus, “Remember the Sabbath Day to keep it holy,” and on that day “you shall not do any work” (20:9). I did enjoy the sound of the pipe organ, some hymns and seeing Cindy Lind. And, Pastor Nelson’s lengthy sermons provided ample time to daydream. But church was still work.
In the decades since, I’ve come to deeply appreciate and love going to church.
Appearing to Moses in the burning bush, God said, “I have seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt, and have heard their cry because of their taskmasters; I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians” (Exodus 3:7-8).
Labor laws under the Pharaoh were oppressive. The Pharaoh told the taskmasters and supervisors to stop providing straw for the complaining Hebrew slaves; “Have them get the straw themselves” (Exodus 5:7). After describing the Hebrews as “lazy,” the Pharaoh demanded, “You shall still deliver the same number of bricks” (Exodus 5:17).
Upon delivering the Hebrew people from slavery, God issued Ten Commandments to protect them from the mess in which they had found themselves. One commandment read, “Remember the Sabbath to keep it holy, six days you shall work and on the seventh you shall rest.” The Sabbath, writes Rabbi Joseph Teluskhkin, is “one of the Bible’s revolutionary innovations. We know of no society prior to the Torah that mandated a day on which human beings were to refrain from their normal labor.” Working seven days a week is morally unacceptable; it reduces life merely to labor.
In his early years, Martin Luther was consumed with efforts to placate an angry God. Like so many others of his day, he prayed, was ceaseless in doing good deeds, confessed every imaginable sin and was on his knees in church constantly. Then Luther read Paul’s words to the Romans, including this verse, “They are now justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:24). We are made right with God not by our works but by God’s mercy, by God’s decision. For Luther, worship was no longer an effort to appease an angry God; worship became a joyous time to delight and revel in the mercy, forgiveness, grace and love of God.
To “remember” is to restore to membership, to member again. Maureen and I go to church every Sunday, even while on vacation. We love going to church. Besides, “remembering the Sabbath,” going to church reminds (re-members within) us 1) that life is more than work, work, work and more work and 2) life includes worship, a time and place we can revel in the mercy, forgiveness grace and love of God. Restored and refreshed, we are then ready to welcome the new week.