Historians say President George Washington was charged in 1789 with violating a law against unnecessarily walking or riding on Sunday when he traveled from Connecticut to New York. He was reportedly on his way to church at the time.
Sales of everything from kitchenware to air conditioners on two consecutive weekend days were prohibited in Texas as late as 1985.
Until 1990, it was against the law in Maine to shop on Sundays at supermarkets and department stores.
Sunday’s “do not do” list has included everything from general labor, retail and liquor sales, boxing and hunting to cockfighting, playing shuffleboard, cutting hair and digging for clams.
From the time that Constantine I commanded all citizens in fourth-century Rome except farmers to rest on Sunday, people and their governments have struggled with the biblical injunction against working on the Sabbath.
Interestingly, the fourth commandment was given not to governments but to God’s people. And it begins not by telling us something we shouldn’t do, but by insisting on something we must do: “Remember the Sabbath day, and keep it holy” (Ex 20:8).
Sundays in American culture have evolved from being days when we weren’t supposed to do anything that resembled work, pleasure or fun to days when, not only can we do anything, we’re enticed to believe that we simply must do just about everything if we are going to keep pace with the world around us.
Neither extreme is healthy or biblical. Both tend to throw us off balance.
The call to Sabbath-keeping is not a punishment or an attempt to keep us from enjoying the very things that make our lives pleasurable and fulfilling. It’s also not a license for a free-for-all. It’s God’s way for achieving the proper balance in a God-centered life.
How does God intend for us to remember the Sabbath? Perhaps we can begin in the spirit in which God first gave the commandment: not simply by avoiding certain things but by intentionally doing others. We can start by remembering.
We can remember who God is, and celebrate that.
We can remember who we are because of our relationship to God, and confess our shortcomings.
We can remember the depth of relationships we enjoy with others because God is God and we are God’s people, and spend time nurturing those relationships.
We can remember why God created us and express gratitude for how God sustains us.
How we remember will come in many ways. What is a Sabbath “don’t” for one person might be a must for another.
What are you doing this Sunday?
Why not begin by remembering?
Jan Turrentine is managing editor of Acacia Resources.