God’s Gift of the Sabbath
by Rev Jacky Quarmby 1 October 2021
In 1981 there was a wonderful film called "Chariots of Fire". It was all about a Christian sprinter called Eric Liddell, who was selected to represent his country for the 1924 Olympics. When he arrived at the Olympics, he discovered that his race was to be held on a Sunday, so he refused to run. People were horrified. They could not understand his decision. Well, Eric Liddell took his stance because of the fourth of the Ten Commandments which says,
Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labour and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals nor the stranger within your gates. For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea and all that is them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.
The root of the Hebrew word for Sabbath means "to cease" or "to stop". And the reason that I love this commandment, is that in it, God tells us to stop – to stop working, to stop striving, to stop proving ourselves – and to simply be.
In the 19th century, at the time of the Puritans, Sunday was declared by law to be the Christian Sabbath. And this meant that Sunday activity was restricted to worship, acts of charity and piety, and the reading of certain carefully selected books. They even introduced laws which restricted the hours of work that was allowed on a Sunday, a fact that was much appreciated by the working classes.
When I was a child, nothing was open on Sunday except the church. I remember Victoria Wood once saying, "Church is something we did before garden centres were invented." But today, of course everything is open, and for many people, Sunday is just a workday like any other. So if we want to take advantage of God’s wonderful gift, we have to be intentional about setting aside a day each week that is different from the other six.
But how should we use such a day? How can we live the Sabbath day as God intends. We get hints in the Commandment itself. Firstly, we are told that the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. So there is a hope that some of the day will be used in worship and prayer - in deepening our relationship with God. There is a hope that we will use the Sabbath day to renew ourselves spiritually.
Secondly, we are told in the commandment, that on the seventh day God rested from his work. So there is a hope that the Sabbath day will be a day of rest – a day to have a snooze in the garden – a day to linger over meals - a day to do nothing and not to plan too much. The Sabbath Day is a day to rest and to renew ourselves physically.
And thirdly, the Sabbath day is a time for reflection, a time to get things back into perspective. After God had finished his Creation, God looked back at all that He had made and saw that it was good. One day a week, it is important to pause, to look back and to reflect, to think about what went well and to be thankful for it. And to reflect on what we’re going to do differently in the week ahead. The Sabbath day is a day for reflection, a day to renew our minds.
One day a week, God commands us to take a Sabbath day – a day different from all the rest - a day for rest, for worship and for reflection - a day to renew ourselves in body, mind and spirit. Are we making the most of God’s gift of the Sabbath in our lives?
Hymn: I heard the voice of Jesus say
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We thank you that you love us and want the best for our lives.
And we thank you that in your wisdom
You have given us the gift of the Sabbath.
Help us we pray to set aside a day each week
To worship and pray
To rest and be still
To pause and reflect
So that we might renew ourselves in body mind and spirit.