When you hear the word ‘sabbath’ or the phrase ‘the Lord’s Day’, what comes into your mind? A church service and a list of things, especially fun things, that you aren’t allowed to do? In Hosea ii.11, God gives unfaithful Israel this warning:
“I will also cause all her mirth to cease, her feast days, her new moons, and her sabbaths, and all her solemn feasts.”
Notice how the sabbath is included under the heading of mirth, amongst the feasts. The sabbath is a gift of God that is meant to be missed. How many of us keep the sabbath day in a way that would be missed if it were taken away?
Without for one moment suggesting that we’ve achieved this, I thought it might be helpful to share what we have been doing in our household to try and move in this direction. Obviously it will look different, depending on whether you are single or married, whether or not you have children, and, if you have children, how old they are. What follows is not intended as list of things I think you have to copy slavishly, but some ideas of opportunities to make Lord’s Day a day of mirth. Perhaps the most significant feature is a special sabbath meal to which we often invite guests. Although we are not at all opposed to drinking alcohol, we tend not to drink during the week, but we will open a bottle of wine at our sabbath dinner. We often have a special drink for the children, too. Similarly, we don’t usually have a pudding at dinner during the week, but we will make a special pudding to have as part of our sabbath dinner. We also tend to keep the sabbath from Saturday evening to Sunday evening. This is for two reasons. First, a day in scripture is often counted from one evening to the next. Secondly, it means all the preparations for the sabbath dinner happen before the sabbath officially begins, so the sabbath day itself can be more restful. When we give thanks for our meals, it is usually an ex tempore prayer, but before our sabbath dinner, we say a special grace which includes verses from Psalm 118 and a song. On Sunday morning, we often have a breakfast that is a bit out of the ordinary and that requires more effort to prepare. After church, depending on the children’s sleeping pattern and the weather, we might go for a walk, or stay in and read a book aloud together, or nap. This is, of course, only the beginning of the task of restoring a festive character to the sabbath day.
In Hosea ii.11, the sabbath and the other feasts are withdrawn because Israel has acted the prostitute and gone after other lovers – the gods of the surrounding nations. Our culture is characterised by twenty-four-hours-a-day, seven-days-a-week shopping, high rates of stress and burnout, and an increasing incidence of family breakdown, due at least in part to spouses seeing so little of each other and any children they may have because of overwork. Perhaps we should interpret this as God’s withdrawal of his gift of sabbath, handing us over to the consequences of seeking joy and rest from other gods – the god of money, for instance. Restoring the sabbath day is ultimately far more than a matter of adding a few new recipes and activities to the Sunday routine. First of all, we must return to God, the husband of his people, and seek our joy and rest in him alone.