NB: So as anyone who regularly reads this blog has probably realized, my Sunday posts are almost always explicitly religious. I typically have kept the various parts of my life measurably distinct from one another – not talking much about family or religion at work, or work at church and home. This blog is an exploration in the opposite direction though and my goal to write daily means that on Sundays, anyone reading this gets a few thoughts from and insights into my faith. Today is no exception, especially as I led one of the study groups during the latter-half of church. Here are my notes and thoughts from that lesson, in written form:
The Sabbath is a day to remember what God has done for us. It was instituted at the Creation (Genesis 2:1–3), reaffirmed following the exodus of the children of Israel from Egypt (Deuteronomy 5:15), and renewed with the resurrection of the Savior, Jesus Christ (John 20:1-19).
It would appear that there has always been, however, some confusion as to what was appropriate for the Sabbath. In Old Testament times, a man gathering sticks was judged to be in violation and suffered the ultimate consequence, which led to the creation of a physical reminder of knots and fringes in the borders of the garment (Tzitzit), that "ye may look upon it, and remember all the commandments of the Lord, and do them" (Numbers 15:32-41). Over the subsequent thousands of years, keeping the Sabbath and not "polluting it" (Isaiah 56:2) was a repeated refrain and with each new generation, the pendulum swung with allowances being made or more strict guidelines set and enforced.
The only constant over all the years of change from when it was instituted, reaffirmed, renewed, down through our modern day, is that we as humans all too often miss the mark. Christ repeatedly faced criticism about his doctrines on the Sabbath. The scholars and leaders of the day repeatedly "held a council against him, how they might destroy him" (Matthew 12:12-14) in the aftermath of miracles and good he did on the Sabbath, to which he taught that "The sabbath was made for man, and not man for the sabbath" (Mark 2:27).
To answer the question though about why the Sabbath was made, I find it helpful to think about what the purpose of everything God does for mankind, which is no more succinctly described than to Moses when God said "For behold, this is my work and my glory—to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man" (Moses 1:39). Everything, from the Creation (which gave life in the first place) to the Atonement of Christ (which offers us grace unto salvation through repentance) to the Ressurection (which overcomes our physical death), is God's work in the interest of both our physical and spiritual wellbeing.
One of my favorite sermons of all time is by Dallin H. Oaks and is titled The Challenge to Become (October 2000 General Conference). You should read the talk in its entirety, but here are three of the opening four paragraphs:
"The Apostle Paul taught that the Lord’s teachings and teachers were given that we may all attain “the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ” (Eph. 4:13). This process requires far more than acquiring knowledge. It is not even enough for us to be convinced of the gospel; we must act and think so that we are converted by it. In contrast to the institutions of the world, which teach us to know something, the gospel of Jesus Christ challenges us to become something.
"Many Bible and modern scriptures speak of a final judgment at which all persons will be rewarded according to their deeds or works or the desires of their hearts. But other scriptures enlarge upon this by referring to our being judged by the condition we have achieved.
"From such teachings we conclude that the Final Judgment is not just an evaluation of a sum total of good and evil acts—what we have done. It is an acknowledgment of the final effect of our acts and thoughts—what we have become. It is not enough for anyone just to go through the motions. The commandments, ordinances, and covenants of the gospel are not a list of deposits required to be made in some heavenly account. The gospel of Jesus Christ is a plan that shows us how to become what our Heavenly Father desires us to become."
And in this context, I look at all of the times that Christ broke with the false traditions around him to teach the true purpose of the Sabbath and I see lessons for what kind of person we should become. We should become more caring, more outwardly focused, more quick to serve, slow to judge, and, as Peter said, to go "about doing good, and healing all that [are] oppressed" (Acts 10:38).
And so, when I think about what it means to keep the Sabbath Day holy, I find myself returning to those key moments – when it was instituted, reiterated, and renewed – and find direction for how I should spend my Sabbath Day. Specifically, after reflecting today on how I practice my faith, I want to
- spend more time remembering the creation by spending more time outside on Sundays,
- spend more time remembering that the Israelites were saved from slavery by rest more fully from my work-week worries, and
- spend more time remembering Christ's sacrifice by picking a weekly Christlike Attributes focus and actively striving to become more like Him in that.
Remembering is a crucial act of devotion and faith. It is how we practice both confessing and obeying. Truly, "And in nothing doth man offend God, or against none is his wrath kindled, save those who confess not his hand in all things, and obey not his commandments" (Doctrine & Covenants 59:21).
Regardless of whether you belong to a different faith or no faith at all, I hope you join me in taking the time each week to think about all of the things others have done to make our lives better and to actively find ways to work on becoming better ourselves.