Jane is a very clever 2 year old. One rule we have for Jane, as most parents, is that she has to be holding a hand when she's in he street. So, often when she walks into the street she clasps her hands together and says, "I hold my own hand." Technically she is keeping the rule, but she's missing the whole purpose of it, and the protection that comes from keeping the rule in the way it was intended.
When we approach the Sabbath day simply as a list of do's and don'ts, we're doing the same thing. There are things we should do on the Sabbath-- we should attend Church; take the sacrament; and spend time with family, studying scriptures, and in other spiritually uplifting activities-- and there are things we should not do-- we would avoid shopping, work, and recreation whenever possible. But it's so much more than that! When that's the essence of our Sabbath observance, we are technically keeping the commandment, but we're missing the whole purpose and the blessings and protection that come when we keep the commandment in the way it was intended. We are holding our own hands instead of holding God's.
So what is the purpose of the Sabbath day? The Hebrew word 'Shabbat' means "to rest" or "to cease", in other words, to stop. The Lord told the early saints of our day when they were in the midst of persecution in Missouri, "Be still and know that I am God." I think he is telling us the same thing on the Sabbath. We must stop, be still, come to know him as our Father, and renew our relationship of love and trust.
Just outside the city walls of Jerusalem stands Golgatha. It is just a barren hill with no reminders of what happened there. The bottom of the hill, where the Savior's cross likely stood, is now the main bus station of the city of Jerusalem. It is loud and dirty and chaotic. The people rush about their lives without stopping to see what is right there in front of them. We live in a world where the Sabbath day is much like this bus station-- just another stop in all of the comings and goings of life with few reminders of the Savior's sacrifice. Most people busily hurry right past the Atonement of Christ, occasionally with a passing glance but usually nothing more.
We must not rush past His cross.
We must stop. The Sabbath is a sacred opportunity to kneel at His cross, offering our lives to Him for one day in remembrance of the sacrifice of His life for us. We must stop to worship Him, to allow the power of His Atonement to fill our lives, to commune with Him and renew our relationship with Him and then to go forward with Him as our partner.
Elder L. Tom Perry, one of the modern-day Apostles, said "The pattern of our Sabbath day observance must always include worship.
President Gordon B. Hinckley, a prophet of the latter-days, said, "The sacrament and the partaking of these emblems is the very heart of our sabbath worship."
At another time he said, "Without sacrifice, there is no true worship of God."
The word 'sacrifice' comes from a Latin root meaning "holy" or "to make holy".
So it is clear that worship, sacrifice, the sacrament, and holiness are all connected. The Sabbath day is made holy by the Lord's sacrifice and it is kept holy by ours.
What are we sacrificing? We are sacrificing our lives for one day-- our to-do lists, our appointments, our work, our recreation-- to set aside an entire day for the Lord. We are also commanded to offer as a sacrifice a broken heart and a contrite spirit; we are to come humbly to be taught of the Lord how we can better worship him throughout the week.
A proper sacrifice takes preparation. In ancient Israel the sacrifice was generally an animal sacrifice. They had to either raise or purchase this animal, and there was also an extensive cleansing or purification ritual before he sacrifice could be made. It takes physical and spiritual preparation for us as well. We need to make sure the shopping is done and errands are run. And we need to take time to spiritualy prepare to truly offer ourselves to the Lord and accept His will, to come to the altar of the sacrament table and offer ourselves to Him.
When we honor the Sabbath in this way, there are great blessings that come to us. I approached these blessings in three different ways.
First, I asked "What was Jesus doing on the Sabbath? What can he offer us?" As I read of Christ's life in the gospels I found accounts of healing at least five different people--including a man with a withered hand and a man who had been born blind. He plucked ears of corn to feed His disciples. He went to the synagogue to worship and He taught in the synagogue, on one occasion declaring Himself as the Son of God.
If we are where Jesus is on the Sabbath, He will do the same for us. He will open our eyes, increase our capacities, feed us spiritually, and teach us who He really is.
There are three events that we are commemorating or celebrating on the Sabbath day, each of which suggests additional blessings.
First, the creation and the fact that God rested on the seventh day. Rest from our labors is a rejuvenating blessing.
Second, the children of Israel being freed from bondage in Egypt. The fact that they could take an entire day to rest and worship the Lord instead of working all seven days like they had as slaves was a statement to the world: "We are free! We're not in bondage anymore!" As we honor the Sabbath we too will be freed, from the bondage of sin and the bondage we sometimes create for ourselves with our busy lives.
Third, we celebrate the Resurrection of the Lord, which is the culmination of His Atoning sacrifice. This brings all the blessings of His Atonement as we properly commemorate His sacrifice. We receive His forgiveness and His power.
Finally, I looked at specific blessings that are mentioned in the scriptures for those who honor the Sabbath day.
In Doctrine and Covenants 59 we are promised that we will be kept unspotted from the world, pure and clean, worthy to stand in the presence of God.
Again in Doctrine and Covenants 59 as well as in Leviticus 26, with slightly different language, we are told that the fullness of the earth will be ours. In a world where productivity is the measure of worth and time is money it may seem impossible to keep up if we set aside an entire day each week to separate ourselves from that world. But we are promised that fullness of the earth. We will not lose anything. In fact, we will gain everything!
In Leviticus 26 we are also promised that He will walk among us. He will be our God and we will be His people.
What beautiful blessings! But does it really make a difference? Is it futile to take an entire day to separate ourselves from the world just to go back into it the next six days?
Rene Daumal is a French mountain climber and I love how he answers questions like this. He says, "You cannot stay on the summit forever; you have to come down again. So why bother in the first place? Just this: What is above knows what is below, but what is below does not know what is above. One climbs, one sees. One descends, one sees no longer, but one has seen. There is an art of conducting oneself in the lower regions by the memory of what one saw higher up. When one can no longer see, one can at least still know."
If we properly observe the Sabbath, it can be this kind of summit experience where we can examine the lower regions of our life, so when we go back we're different, we're elevated, a little better and a little more like Christ.
As we properly prepare for the Sabbath, the Sabbath will prepare us for eternal life.