A couple of years ago I spent part of a Barnes and Noble Christmas gift card on a date book for the upcoming new year. The spiral bound log was pretty and functional with plenty of room to write down all the things that keep me from getting my eight hours. However, I discovered (after the purchase) that it had one design flaw that bothered me. The weeks started with Monday, instead of Sunday. This didn’t bother me because it upset the flow of my personal schedule; it bothered me because it upset my theology. I felt like the book designers were messing with world history and giving the bird to God himself. In reality, I’m sure that the book designers were just operating out of a utilitarian approach to life.
This utilitarian approach to life seems to be the norm here in America. It’s why we pick and choose which parts of the Decalogue (The Ten Commandments) are useful to us. We have laws against killing and stealing (Commandments Six and Eight), but the rest of the commandments are often blatantly ignored or mocked. Remember the pro football player who was killed by his mistress and then publicly celebrated as a wonderful human being by his coaches, teammates and friends? We all have our flaws, but one of his (adultery) got him murdered, and that fact was ignored. Still, this kind of behavior is to be expected when we live in a utilitarian, pluralistic society. I’m not surprised or bewildered by such attitudes. What is more baffling to me is why more people, especially Christians, don’t embrace the Fourth Commandment. Christians often do get worked up about the breaking of the other nine, but are totally indifferent to this one. We Christians often seem happy to hop on the Ferris wheel of life and ride in circles with everyone else.
The Fourth Commandment says, “Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, in it you shall not do any work, you or our son or your daughter, your male or your female servant or your cattle or your sojourner who stays with you. For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day; therefore the LORD blessed the sabbath day and made it holy.” (Exodus 20:9-11)
I find it interesting that this is the one commandment where God specifically notes his example. One would think that the concept of resting could easily be grasped without need of illustration. But we don’t, and God, of course, knows what thick-headed people we are. We stumble over this commandment due to sin, but also ignorance. I think modern generations have been a little freaked out by how our ancestors observed it. We hear stories of half-day sermons by Puritan pastors, or pioneer children having to sit on cabin benches without moving a muscle until sunset. I think these stories of what seems to us to be drudgery are confusing. They also seem to contradict what Jesus said, “”The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath.” (Mark 2:27) I also think a general lack of knowledge contributes to our struggle.
For many years of my life I believed that Christians worshipped on Sundays because Christ rose from the dead on the first day of the week. I wasn’t aware of the intentional act by the apostles to change the sabbath observance from Saturday to Sunday as a direct result of the fulfillment of prophecy. As Jews, the apostles realized that they were no longer looking forward to the coming of the Messiah. Messiah (Jesus Christ) had come; therefore, it was symbolic that instead of “looking forward” all week to rest as they had “looked forward” to Messiah, they now began their week with the celebration of the accomplished rest from labor and sin that Christ provided in his work on the cross.
This is why it bothered me when my date book began my weeks on Mondays. It seemed to be encouraging me to forget or deny a foundational truth about my life as a Christian. At worst, it encouraged me to sin because neglect of keeping the Lord’s Day is a sin (whether Christians admit it or not). But I don’t observe the Lord’s Day out of a legalistic fear of judgment. I celebrate it because there is amazing joy and blessing in resting, worshipping, playing and feasting. As Eugene Peterson writes in Confessions of a Former Breaker, “Sabbath is the biblical tool for protecting time against desecration. It is the rhythmic setting apart of one day each week for praying and playing — the two activities for which we don’t get paid, but which are necessary for a blessed life. A blessed life is what we are biblically promised. A blessed life is not a mere survival life, but a bountiful life.” This I must remember regardless of my date book. Tomorrow I will get off the Ferris wheel.
Postlude: As often happens when I try to whip out a blog, I return to find fault with my own writing. In this case, I’ve decided that the Ferris wheel analogy is not the best. It might be construed that I think riding Ferris wheels isn’t an appropriate thing to do on Sundays. Not true. Having fun, especially with family and friends, on Sundays is great (in my view). What I intended to picture with the wheel is one’s inability to set aside the routine cycle of life. Oh…I also really wanted to use this great photo my son took!