Relief Society Lesson: The Sabbath is a day to remember what God has done for us
Today we’re going to talk about a few of the grand, mighty, magnificent events that the scriptures tell us God associates with the sabbath. Let’s start, as I often like to, in the beginning.
The first of the two creation narratives that open the Old Testament outlines the story of creation in days.
Please note that I have modified the pronouns to reflect our understanding that we have a Heavenly Mother and Heavenly Father.
1 In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.
2 And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.
3 And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.
4 And God saw the light, that it was good: and God divided the light from the darkness.
5 And God called the light Day, and the darkness [they] called Night. And the evening and the morning were the first day.
Where there was nothing, our Heavenly Parents brought light.
Next, they created a planet, then land, and then plants, seasons, fish and fowl, cattle and creeping things, and last of all they created male and female in their own image and blessed them and taught them and saw that it was very good.
1 Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them.
2 And on the seventh day God ended [their] work which [they] had made; and [they] rested on the seventh day from all [their] work which [they] had made.
3 And God blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it: because that in it [they] had rested from all [their] work which God created and made.
If it makes sense for your class, keep track of some responses on the board. Make sure to keep the discussion inclusive and welcoming. The goal of these questions is absolutely not to be judgemental, but to create individual reflection, and (if possible) to give people a chance to discuss what is difficult about the sabbath, and come to a place of peace and acceptance with how sabbath day worship works for them.
What clues does this give us about what a sabbath means or what God intends its purpose to be? Is every sabbath a day to remember the creation story? Why would we need to think about that every week?
We tend to think of the “days” listed in this creation story as being periods of time. They’re not bound by the earth rotating around the sun, but by specific goals or tasks. God decided when the day was done, and was good. Do you think our Heavenly Parents intend us to have one sabbath every literal week? Why or why not?
Eden is not really a community – it’s barely an ecosystem, everything is in a kind of stasis until Eve discovers the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and sees that it is good. In this kind of existence, every day can be a kind of sabbath. Nothing needs to get done as a matter of urgency. There is no death, so there is no need to sustain life.
That’s very different from the world that we live in now. We need hospitals and police every day. We need restaurants and hotels and petrol stations. Does that mean that it makes no sense to have a sabbath? Does it maybe mean that our sabbath doesn’t have to be on a Sunday?
But if our sabbath isn’t necessarily the same as everyone else’s, how do we know who’s being wicked? Or, more seriously, how do we know who needs support?
And when we’re in middle of supporting life on Sundays (and every day), is the sabbath not really supposed to be a part of our lives – or at least, not the resting part of it? Adam and Eve didn’t have to get themselves and their children dressed and ready for church. Curling irons didn’t even exist. Are we breaking the sabbath by bringing our families to church?
What is the value in coming to the same building together every Sunday? What can we do if we’re not finding that value? How can we help others find that value?
If your class hasn’t already, talk about how taking the sacrament reminds us of our baptismal ordinances.
Just like the purpose of the earth being created was not for it to stay pristine and unmarred, but to support life, our baptism wasn’t designed to be the beginning of us never making mistakes again. And especially not by shutting ourselves off from the risk of failure. We can take time on the sabbath, and particularly during the sacrament, to remember that our Heavenly Parents designed everything for us to experience joy. Isn’t that kind of amazing? Appreciating their works and committing to live a like of joy is a way to worship on the sabbath – and doing what we can to bring joy to others allows us to be more like our Heavenly Parents.
Something like 26 generations later, Moses (with no small help from his mother Jochebed, his sister Miriam, his brother Aaron, his adopted mother Bithiah, and of course divine intervention) brings the Israelites out of captivity to wander in the desert for 40 years. They weren’t super grateful, and they needed a lot of reminding that God was looking out for them.
When they didn’t have any source of food, God provided manna from the heavens. If a class member recalls the details, have them explain that everyone could gather just enough each day for their household’s needs, except on the day before the sabbath. Those who tried to gather extra on other days found their manna full of worms, but the manna saved for the sabbath stayed whole and fresh, and no more manna appeared on the seventh day. You may choose to read parts of Exodus 16:14-27 with the class.
Let’s just take a second to imagine from our Heavenly Parents’ point of view here. The commandment to rest is so important that God changed the laws of nature to allow these people to take a day off from their normal schedules. That seems kind of like a mighty work to me.
How much is it appreciated by the Israelites? Why should they appreciate it more? Does it in some ways make their lives more difficult?
Later, when they come to the land of their inheritance, God specifically connects their sabbath observance to this experience.
15 And remember that thou wast a servant in the land of Egypt, and that the Lord thy God brought thee out thence through a mighty hand and by a stretched out arm: therefore the Lord thy God commanded thee to keep the sabbath day.
Why? How is the sabbath day related to the exodus? Is it any deeper than “I fed you to show it’s important to me, please observe the sabbath”? Does God care if we do or don’t connect these events today? Could it make our sabbath more meaningful, or is this ancient history?
If the class doesn’t draw a connection, point out the parallels between the Israelites escaping servitude and coming to the promised land and our Heavenly Parents forgiving us, and the freedom from sin/bondage available to us through the atonement and grace of Christ.
Let’s fast forward just a little bit.
1 The first day of the week cometh Mary Magdalene early, when it was yet dark, unto the sepulchre, and seeth the stone taken away from the sepulchre.
2 Then she runneth, and cometh to Simon Peter, and to the other disciple, whom Jesus loved, and saith unto them, They have taken away the Lord out of the sepulchre, and we know not where they have laid him.
What’s happening in this scripture?
If the class doesn’t, use your own words to describe the crucifixion and burial of the Saviour, and explain that Mary was the first witness of the Resurrection. Read together or describe what happens in verses 3-23.
This is Easter. This is basically the holiest series of events in our religion. This is why we observe our sabbath when we do – because Jesus rose on Sunday. We connect Easter with the sabbath by singing hymns about the atonement before we partake of the sacrament. We are pretty good at applying the atonement to our own lives – normalising it, making it an intimate part of our lives. We practice that a lot, and it is important.
Why might it be useful or important to kind of do the reverse of that, and treat the atonement and resurrection as a mighty work of God, like the creation or exodus? Are these events connected?
How can that emotional space of worship or adoration help us observe the sabbath? What might be different in our lives by spending time thinking about the greatness of God and feeling awe towards our Saviour and Heavenly Parents?
Do we experience these kinds of grand, mighty, magnificent works in our own lives, or is this more of a once-in-2000-years thing that becomes part of our culture and religion because its scope is so large? Is it presumptuous of us to hope for these things? Is it faith-building to look for and keep records of them?
In your own words, encourage your class to do more of the things that they know are successful ways for them to observe the sabbath day, and maybe to try something new and see how that works out for them. Express appreciation for their comments. Bear your testimony of God’s love for us, and the potential for sabbath day observance to bring us closer to our Heavenly Parents and who they want us to become.