Preachers will often joke, “Doesn’t it always seem to be a Sunday when you want Chick-fil-A the most?”
And to which, I have always thought but never replied: No, preacher, that is not the case. The truth is, I want Chick-fil-A every day, and the fact that I can’t go on a seven-day streak is a travesty and an injustice, and it is easily one of the most infuriating aspects of modern capitalism. But no, I do not want Chick-fil-A more on Sundays.
Still, the very fact that I can’t have chicken deliciousness on Sundays is culturally interesting. Most of us are aware that the choice of Truett Cathy, the founder of Chick-fil-A, to keep his restaurants closed on Sundays as well as Thanksgiving and Christmas is a holdover from the days of United States blue laws.
There was, indeed, a time when church and state, much like a buddy-cop film, worked together—notwithstanding the occasional squabble and shootout. Part of this cooperation was American blue laws that prohibited certain business activities on Sundays. These laws were not concerned with prohibiting “evil” activity as legislation usually is, but rather encouraging Christian observance and rest. They are a clear continuation of Sabbath.
Sabbath, believe it or not, is a biblical concept. It is the fourth commandment (or third, if you’re a Catholic), and it is perhaps the easiest commandment put to stone. Nested between edicts to honor Jehovah, the creator of the universe, and to not murder your fellow man, a command to not do anything for a day seems pretty simple (see my brother’s post for the ridiculousness of Israel’s inability to keep the Sabbath). Yet this “baby” commandment tends to be forgotten.
Bitterness was my constant companion as a sophomore in chapel at Harding. My teenage angst—which would have manifested itself in a lesser man as godless Hot Topic apparel—was beginning to reemerge as I slouched in my seat in row W, and I found myself constantly critiquing the chapel lessons I was hearing. One chapel when I remember being distinctly disgruntled was centered on a lesson about keeping the Sabbath.
I remember thinking to myself, is this what we need to be talking about here? There are people in this room who are doubting their faith, people who are struggling with their sexuality and others giving into sexuality, people who are filled with anger, and people dealing with depression. Here we are talking about the lightweight of the 10 Commandments. Certainly there are weightier matters to address.
I went a long time after that chapel thinking the same thing. But as months passed, I noticed in Scripture that Sabbath does not die in Exodus. It keeps coming up. The consistency of Sabbath is beaten into Israel over the course of a millennium. Nehemiah, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Hosea, Amos. They won’t let it go.
And I begin to think, what was I missing about Sabbath?
I start to realize that possibly the point was rest. My one semester of “Wellness” teaches me the dangers of over-activity, that we can overheat our immune system, that sleep becomes gradually less effective, and that our minds can be placed perpetually on edge. The rest Sabbath provides us is a natural counter-agent to the detriments of exhaustion, building into our weeks a day to rest and recover.
I start to realize that possibly the point was ritual. My one semester of “Psychology” (which I never took) informs me of the neurological benefits of habit and ritual, that studies have shown ritual to be, in itself, rest and to have the ability to alleviate stress and grief. I realize that Sabbath is a gift for our own health of body and mind.
And yet as I descend further into the narrative of Israel, I realize Sabbath is, in the end, a day of trust.
Foremost, it is trust that the will and design of God is beyond us. So while the fourth commandment will never hold the ominous tone of its sister commandments, it is created to benefit all the children of God. In this way, it is a circular trust—the more one trusts, the more they will grow in the Sabbath. And in the end, as Hauerwas and Willimon confirm, “Sabbath keeping is a sign of trust that God governs the world, and therefore we don’t have to work to make things come out right.”