Columnists > Judgment Calls

A Sabbath proposal

It may fit our schedule, but not Scripture's

Issue: "Rolling the dice," Aug. 4, 2001

The Church of the Holy Nativity in Wrightstown, Pa., just went to a Saturday evening worship service as an option for folks who are too busy on Sundays. Many other Episcopal and Lutheran congregations in the area are following suit. I say this is a welcome development, but doesn't go far enough.

Saturday may solve the kids' orchestra practice problem and avoid nasty checking with ice hockey, but has anybody given thought to the implications of tampering with the delicate cultural ecosystem of "the weekend?" It's not just that the Glenside Pub has live entertainment on Saturday night, but what other natural setting exists that affords relaxing opportunities to ... er ... witness to your unsaved neighbors? Surely the Lord meant us to unwind on Saturday nights.

Ditto for Friday nights.

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Which pushes us back to Thursdays, but that's bowling league, isn't it, and we fought hard for lane time at Thunderbird-whereas the church building sits idle 24/6 and, really, is it written in stone that worship couldn't happen on a Wednesday as easily as a Sunday? (I think the Stone just says stuff about not worshipping other gods-and heaven knows I have none of THOSE in my life.)

So make it Wednesday. But Wednesday night some of us are already in church: Come to think of it, you could just lengthen the service a bit, throw in a more substantial sermon, beef up the hymns and pass the offering plate, and voilà, a weekly worship service in midweek. One small step for man, one giant leap for religion.

To give credit where it is due, the Roman tradition I grew up in was years ahead in both the Saturday innovation and a raised consciousness about the bulging daytimer syndrome. They understood what busy-ness was like and had the rules codified in a book, to take out the guesswork and alleviate angst: If you showed up to Mass just seconds before the Offertory part and didn't leave a second before Communion was over, by golly it "counted." Blessed assurance!

So now, before sending off this modest proposal to the editor, for the edification of all, one last sweeping check of Scripture for its imprimatur.

Ah, there's the rub. (How my best laid plans do oft falter against that rock of stumbling!) I read as follows:

"If you keep your feet from breaking the Sabbath and from doing as you please on My holy day" (Isaiah 58:13) ...

"But Lord," I protest, interrupting in mid-verse, "I'm not even a Sabbatarian!"

Unimpressed, He continues, "... if you call the Sabbath a delight (here I notice in His voice a marked relishing of the word delight), and the Lord's holy day honorable, and if you honor it by not going your own way and not doing as you please or speaking idle words ..."

"Delight." I should have known it. Mine is a theology of rules, the Lord's a theology of "delight." He makes a big deal of what I delight in, keeps pushing matters deeper, always deeper, to the heart.

A chorus of voices from every corner of Scripture now joins in my rebuke:

"You are looking only on the surface of things," chastises Paul (2 Corinthians 10:7). "Do not trust in deceptive words and say, 'This is the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord!'" (Jeremiah 7:4). "Day after day they seek me out; they seem eager to know my ways, as if they were a nation that does what is right" (Isaiah 58:2). "When will the New Moon be over that we may sell grain, and the Sabbath be ended that we may market wheat?" (Amos 8:5).

"'Try offering [this Saturday scheme] to your governor! Would he be pleased with you? Would he accept you?' says the Lord Almighty.... 'Oh, that one of you would shut the temple doors, so that you would not light useless fires on My altar! I am not pleased with you,' says the Lord Almighty, 'and I will accept no offering from your hands. My name will be great among the nations, from the rising to the setting of the sun.... But you profane it.... And you say, "What a burden!"'" (Malachi 1:8-13).

Then I feel my shame and say, "I am unworthy-how can I reply to You?" I put my hand over my mouth and bow my head. But isn't it like the Lord to be the lifter of my head as well, and now He bids me finish the verse I first started and see the promise that was there all along.


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