At our recent stake conference the visiting area authority 70, Elder Charles, spoke about the Sabbath*. He told us that in a change to previous practise, those assigned to attend stake conferences had been assigned the topic by the Brethren, and that in an increasingly secular world, our Sabbath observance can distinguish us from the world. He also told us we would being hearing more on the topic over the coming year. Several points were addressed.
The Sabbath is a Delight
“If thou turn away thy foot from the sabbath, from doing thy pleasure on my holy day; and call the sabbath a delight, the holy of the Lord, honourable; and shalt honour him, not doing thine own ways, nor finding thine own pleasure, nor speaking thine own words: Then shalt thou delight thyself in the Lord; and I will cause thee to ride upon the high places of the earth, and feed thee with the heritage of Jacob thy father: for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it.” (Isaiah 58:13-14)
Elder Charles suggested that the Sabbath can be a delight when we meet with fellow church members. He delights in wearing his Sunday best. When we invite friends to church, we feel delight when they attend. We can delight in our observance of the Sabbath refreshing us. He reminded us that:
“The sabbath was made for man, and not man for the sabbath: Therefore the Son of man is Lord also of the sabbath.” (Mark 2:27-28)
My son is a priest and will usually bless the sacrament. I take delight in that. He does it very well. He also generally prepares the sacrament before the meeting. We don’t have that many young men. We arrive in good time; 30 minutes before the meeting is due to start. We have always arrived early. I don’t like being late for things, and for my husband, being late is the height of bad manners. That’s a Japanese thing. His father once sacked a driving instructor for turning up late. Our YM leaders send out an email each week, and have recently begun requesting that the YM aim to be ready and seated for the sacrament meeting 10 minutes before the meeting is due to start. Perhaps this is part of a wider instruction to Priesthood leaders given the next point covered.
Arrive in Good Time
When they go out to the cinema Sister Charles likes to arrive before for the start of the ads. Elder Charles said she liked to get her money’s worth, to have the complete cinema experience. It’s something I also like to do, though for the more practical reason of being able to see my seat before the lights go down. He suggested that when we are late for church we don’t get the whole experience, that if we arrive in good time we will have a better experience, because we will be able to prepare spiritually before the start of the meeting. I find that arriving 30 minutes early has the practical advantage that I can choose where to sit (an advantage that could be lost if everyone turns up early).
Elder Charles then went on to tell us that the training meetings the 70s have with the apostles begin at 8am, but that most people are seated between 7.15-7.30am. On one occasion he was ‘late’, and didn’t arrive until 7.45. No sooner was he seated than the meeting began. That gave me pause. I suppose if everyone was present then what’s the point of waiting? But if arriving early is meant to give time for spiritual preparation, then he just lost that 15 minutes. And where would it end? If everyone is 30 minutes early are they going to start at 7.30? Shouldn’t an advertised start time mean something?
He shared an anecdote about people being perpetually late for things, and a story about a harrassed mother getting everything ready for church whilst the husband sat in the car tooting the horn. He told us families need to work together as a team to be ready on time. His final point on the topic was that it is a point of reverence and respect not to be late.
The Sign of a Covenant People
We were told that the Sabbath is no more our day, than our tithing is our money.
“I am the Lord your God; walk in my statutes, and keep my judgments, and do them; And hallow my sabbaths; and they shall be a sign between me and you, that ye may know that I am the Lord your God.” (Ezekiel 20:19-20)
As a people who have made covenants with God, we are not simply volunteers.
Elder Charles spoke about something he called the ‘Just This Once’ syndrome, and related a story about a boy who had decided he would not play sports on a Sunday when 16 years old. He later joined the Oxford University basketball team. The final match was to be played on a Sunday, the team were a man down. He prayed about these extenuating circumstances. The answer he got was that he knew what was correct, why ask?
He also acknowledged that there are those who need to work on a Sunday. That there isn’t always something we can do about that, but that we need to be careful to distinguish between want and need.
The Cleansing Power of the Sabbath
Elder Charles pointed out that attending church on the Sabbath, partaking the sacrament, and meeting with fellow worshippers helps to free us from the stains and smudges of the world.
“And that thou mayest more fully keep thyself unspotted from the world, thou shalt go to the house of prayer and offer up thy sacraments upon my holy day; For verily this is a day appointed unto you to rest from your labors, and to pay thy devotions unto the Most High;” (D&C 59:9-10)
He put particular emphasis on more fully, recognising there are many things we can do, but Sabbath observance is important. He said that when he and his wife first joined the church in Britain, church members were quite poor. Today’s second and third generation members tended to be wealthier, and whilst there is strength from the support in multi-generational member families, problems may also be introduced. How well do we keep the Sabbath? He didn’t provide a list of dos and don’ts, but cautioned us to be sensible. He did mention a particular bugbear: buying things on the Sabbath. Six days in the week should be enough for shopping.
I was intrigued by this connection of ideas. My parents were converts. They raised us in a strong tradition of Sabbath-keeping. Like the song says, we prepared on Saturday for Sunday. I never dreamt of doing school work on a Sunday, not even during exams. As a student I would sometimes set my alarm for 2am Monday morning to get work finished, but I never did college work on a Sunday. This is something we have continued with our own children. That’s not to say my Sabbaths are restful. I like to be time efficient, so stuff that can be done on a Sunday, lesson preparation for church classes for instance, would tend to be allocated to Sunday, to make more time in the week for those things I wouldn’t do on a Sunday. Growing up we would occasionally hear whispered stories amongst church members about how terrible it was that those Utah members (sorry folks!) would sometimes attend church and then eat out in restaurants, didn’t know how to keep the Sabbath. So I’m wondering is this more relaxed attitude to the Sabbath now becoming more prevalent in Britain, and is that being seen as a bad thing by those in authority? I’d add a note that it wasn’t until 1994 that Sunday trading was legal in Britain, and even now is subject to restricted hours.
Elder Charles closed by emphasising that Sunday is the Sabbath day, a hallowed day.
- What does the Sabbath mean to you?
- How do you keep the Sabbath? Do you?
- What topics have been covered at your stake conferences?
- Is the emphasis on the Sabbath worldwide, regional or relatively local?
- What do you make, if anything, of the apparently new move of the Brethren assigning topics?
*It is interesting to note that Sister Charles spoke first on the related subject of the sacrament.