“The Sabbath was made for humankind and not humankind for the Sabbath…” Mark 2: 27
A few years ago I was serving as a pastor of a church where we wanted to get a better sense of how the church could serve the community. We had a rummage sale coming up so we decided that we would stand by the exit door and ask those who had shopped there if they would be willing to take a short survey. Nearly fifty people kindly obliged.
The survey listed about twenty choices, among them—more youth programming, Bible studies, a community garden, Sunday school, optional worship times, 24/7 church access, food pantry, etc. The top result didn’t surprise us at all given the neighborhood. Our rummage sale participants wanted more activities for their youth. But what did surprise us was the second highest choice—people wished that the church could be open 24/7 just so that they could sit in the pews and pray, light a candle, and have a sacred retreat from their otherwise hectic and overly stressed lives.
It was interesting personally doing the survey. This was the only response that almost always came with some commentary. After choosing it as a top priority they would then add, “Of course, we know that you can’t do that with vandalism and all, but if you could, we would come.”
I think this has something to do with our text for this Sunday, June 3. What I heard from our rummage sale guests was that they were looking for a place where they could practice a little sabbath in their lives. But what they also were telling us was that sabbath for them couldn’t be restricted to a certain hour on Sunday or even to a certain day; their lives were too complicated or maybe just too different to be able to commit to Sabbath at the same time that the Sunday faithful do.
I remember in 2014 when I rode my bike through Greece as part of my Rome to Rumi pilgrimage. Two or three times per day I would ride up on a miniature shrine that was completely open to the public—no locks, no guards, no hours posted. It didn’t matter whether I showed up at 6 a.m. or 6 p.m. I was able to stop my bike, enter the sacred space and take a few minutes to pray, light a candle, and give a thanks offering. I was struck that there was still enough reverence in Greek society for these shrines that vandals kept their hands off of them. At numerous roadside intersections and at the tops of passes a person could practice a moment of sabbath in the small shrines at any time of the day or night.
It is entirely too simplistic to boil this down to one single and simple issue, but I am going to do it anyway. I wonder if we in the church have to make a little fork-in-the-road decision—maybe we shouldn’t be busting our butts trying to convince a 24/7 culture that Sabbath is most appropriately observed exclusively on Sundays, but instead should be seeing our role as nurturing Sabbath observance in a culture of 24/7 expectations and lifestyles.
I think people still need and want sabbath. In fact, I have even been told by people that the reason they don’t go to church is because of their need for a day of rest—sabbath! Most of these people are from two-parent households where both parents work or from working single parents. I have been told on numerous occasions that they work all week, get up early on Saturday for soccer games, football practice, shopping, and doing household chores. On Sunday they want permission to sleep in, rest, putter in the yard, take a hike, go to the beach, and visit with friends. In other words, they want sabbath.
I personally believe that whether a person is religious or not they still need sabbath. I personally believe that none of us are made to work seven days a week (yours truly included!). I personally believe that the story of God creating for six days and resting for one day is not only Biblical truth, but also biological and psychological truth. I personally believe sabbath is good for us, necessary and honors the rhythm of Creation, as God intended it to be.
I wonder if the mission of the church in this 24/7 culture is not to press people into our Sunday rhythm of Sabbath, but to just remind people and educate people that sabbath is good for the body, good for the soul, good for the family, and good for the community. I wonder if the mission of the church in this 24/7 culture is to provide more opportunities for people to observe and practice sabbath. I wonder if we need 24/7 churches for a 24/7 culture.
Of course, as my rummage sale respondents admitted, “Of course, we know it’s not possible, but if it were possible, we would come!”
“Isn’t the sabbath supposed to be made for us, not the other way around?”