Restrictions abounded in our world this past year. "Don't go to work;" "wear a face mask in public at all times;" "don't shake hands with people," "don't go to a party, even for Thanksgiving;" etc... All of these prohibitions we heard reiterated time-and-again on the news for over a year. Yet, these restrictions existed for a purpose: to protect us, and to preserve the health of our society.
As our world truly begins to return to some degree of "normalcy," I find myself wondering about the role of restrictions relative to our everyday lives. Putting aside the issue of pandemic restrictions, are there any other restrictions that we *need* to re-implement and/or maintain in our lives for the benefit of both ourselves as individuals, and greater society as a whole?
The Scriptures would say that one very important restriction (hint hint: it's the fourth of the 10 Commandments!) is to honor the sabbath. The central idea of sabbath is for us to dedicate a particular day of the week (for Jews, Friday evening to Saturday evening; for Christians, the entire day of Sunday) as a set-apart day in which we *stop all work* so as to honor God through worship and study while enjoying life with our loved ones. The sabbath is for us as human beings a perennial reminder that we were created by God chiefly for love of God and neighbor rather than for endless productivity and the achievement of material success within the eyes of the world. Just as God rested on the seventh day from the labors of creation, so are we to prioritize (not *fit in if possible*) a day of rest each week.
In the height of the pandemic, one redeeming quality people lifted up from both secular and religious communities was the benefit many enjoyed of spending more time with their loved ones. Many discovered that it was actually quite nice to spend a day at home with the family instead of always running around all over the place, even if those "places" weren't related to work. The *slowing down* of our lives was (re)discovered to be an unintended benefit of an awful situation. Will we as a culture forget this lesson as masks come off and our agendas fill up with seemingly endless meetings and tasks?
In a recent issue of the *Wall Street Journal*, an essay was published entitled, *"What We've Lost in Rejecting the Sabbath"* by Sohrab Ahmari. The essay is an adaptation from his recently published book, *"The Unbroken Thread: Discovering the Wisdom of in an Age of Chaos"* ([Amazon.com link](https://www.amazon.com/Unbroken-Thread-Discovering-Wisdom-Tradition/dp/0593137175/ref=tmm_hrd_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=1621892575&sr=8-1)). In the WSJ essay, Ahmari makes the compelling case that the founders of our nation went to great lengths to write into law at several levels of government what were termed the, "Sunday Blue Laws." The purpose of these laws were to restrict commerce on the Christian sabbath so as to ensure that general society would continue to honor the sabbath as a central ritual woven into its communal fabric. In the wake of the French Revolution, American lawmakers adamantly believed that the sabbath was a firm bulwark against the deterioration of general society, and a central pillar of the family unit's stability. As evidence of the sabbath's importance to colonial American culture, Ahmari recounts the story of how George Washington was chastised by a local magistrate for riding on his horse on the sabbath between Connecticut and New York in 1789!
Two years ago in North Dakota, the very last Blue Laws were rescinded. Historically, business owners in North Dakota faced fines and even jail time for opening their businesses on the sabbath. The GOP sponsor of the bill stated as the rationale for the change that a majority of citizens, "wants to make decisions for themselves." In a post-Christian society, with many professing Christians not even honoring the sabbath, who can argue with this logic?
But, we must ask ourselves, do we *always* know what is best for ourselves?
The Blue Laws aren't coming back, and in my view, they are in some ways a red herring to the true issue. The laws, in a democratic republic such as ours, should always reflect the will of the people. If the people as a whole do not see the need for the Blue Laws, then so be it. Yet, it was never about the Blue Laws, it was about society in general actually understanding the need for sabbath! If this lesson was comprehended at scale, such Blue Laws would never have been needed in the first place. The loss of the Blue Laws is not the principle issue here, the loss of the sabbath is.
The question now isn't whether American society in general will reclaim the necessary restrictions of the sabbath, but whether we as professing Christians will choose do so? In an age where families often don't eat together, our phones notify us seemingly without end, and work bleeds over from the office now into the home in a post-pandemic society, our ability to honor the sabbath will require a very conscious choice on our parts--a choice always assisted by the grace of God.
Sabbath, at its heart, isn't about sitting in front of the TV all day, doing nothing. Quite to the contrary, Sabbath is a rather *active* day, only in a way which differs from a typical workday. Traditional sabbath activities involve *finding ways to spend time with your family members,* such as going on a bike ride, playing music for one another, cooking, going out to eat (yes, that is an act of commerce) going to church, going to a party with friends, etc... Additionally, when there are moments of downtime, reading is another central practice of the sabbath. Try spending at least 30 minutes reading an explicitly spiritual text and not just anohter mystery novel, or opening the Scriptures and spending time reflecting on a Psalm or one of Jesus' parables. Naps, times spent in nature, and the pursuit of the arts are all also considered traditional sabbath practices. Try to find ways to minimize your time with "devices" and prioritize instead times building memories which will last with those around you. Perhaps, in the midst of it all, you may find yourself growing in your awareness of the likeness of God in which you were created--a God who both worked efficiently, and willingly accepted the sabbath restriction from work so as to rest.
Grace & peace,
Scott S. Himel, Senior Pastor