Now I know I have told you this before. But my uncle and aunt in Lairg, Sutherland, were members of the Free Church. And so, Sundays were days when the TV and radio were kept off, books were not read and the minimum of cooking was done. The Bible and books of sermons were the only source of reading materials. In fact, it was only the going to church twice that broke the day’s silence. The Sabbath then was a day of rest. Indeed, for a small boy like myself it was a day of enforced rest. So much so that my grandfather was once asked by mother what he did on his Sundays during his 2-month summer visit to my aunt’s family in the North. He said that he waited until the family had their afternoon rest and then he unearthed his Sunday Post which he had got in the week and secretly read it.
Well, looking back it is easy to take pot shots at such a restricted day. Yet as they were crofters possibly this rest day gave a recharging time from subsistence farming. As committed Christians this rest day definitely restored their souls. Or as the psalmist has it:
He makes me lie down in green pastures
He leads me beside quiet waters
He restores my soul.
Well, of course, things here in Broughty Ferry today are quite different. For some of us must work on Sundays. But for many others, it more about doing things left undone from the week behind and doing things for the week ahead. It is more about doing things for and with the family. More about doing things for pure enjoyment Now these are very worthy yet they aren’t in the end – a rest. Put more bluntly, we are still obeying the rules of duty, obligation, loyalty and pleasure. We are still being bound by the compulsions of the moment. Or as one member once said to me – she couldn’t possibly come to church on a Sunday as she had to make the lunch for his visiting grown-up family. And the result is we are still enslaved to doing instead of being; being a child of God rather than an employee, father, grand-mother or neighbour. Being a child of God indeed for just a few hours free of the rules.
Yet we say, my work is important, my family is paramount or my neighbour needs me. Doubtless all true. Yet..yet we still need that restoration of soul, that moment for quiet water refreshment and a period of green pasture nourishment. We need time for ourselves with God and only God. For without that, life becomes a conveyor belt, a drudge even one that is flatly two dimensional without spiritual heights or depths. Moreover, as the psalm reminds we need time to ourselves to be guided into righteousness and faith to fear no evil. In simple terms, we need this day to heal our souls for the shadows and the valleys ahead.
However, the idea of a resting day still seems as unexciting and restraining as it was to me as a child in the highlands. In truth, it seems that it could make our Sundays rather cheerless, dull and even soulless.
When I was in university, the divinity faculty had a weekly lunchtime service in the Chapel. Often led by students there was always a mixture of worship styles on offer. Yet only one sticks in my mind. We entered, sat in the pews and nothing was said or done – only restful music was played. At first we were restless – wanting something, anything, to happen. Then we fiddled with the bibles in front of us – looking for some stimulation. Then slowly, we slowed down. We became restful. Indeed, we started quietly to be still with God and God was still with us. At the end of quarter of an hour, our time was up – yet we did not want leave – we didn’t want to stir – we didn’t want to break the bridge between heaven and earth. Nevertheless, we did and returned to the world refreshed, ready to do what was important; ready not to exist but live again.
This illustrates that to give this day to God is not to be selfish, slothful or constrained. It is to be still by casting aside our life’s lesser rules and demands. It is to sense that a deep love and goodness is following us through our sometimes-taxing journey. It is to luxuriate in a repast of peace where there is healing to life and life in all its true fullness. It is, indeed, to take time out in the house of the Lord and know it to be our perfect dwelling there forever.
So, this Sunday let us turn it into a perfect day.
For as Lou Reed sang in his famous song,
Oh what a perfect day’:
Just a perfect day
Problems all left alone
Weekenders on our own
It’s such fun
Just a perfect day
You made me forget myself
I thought I was
Someone else, someone good
Oh, it’s such a perfect day
I’m glad I spent it with you
Oh, such a perfect day
You just keep me hanging on
You just keep me hanging on