September Young Women Lesson: Why are we commanded to keep the Sabbath Day holy?
Based on the church-wide initiative to improve Sabbath Day observance, I’m guessing that this lesson will be very popular next month. However, we have a tendency to turn the topic of “keeping the Sabbath Day holy” into a list of do’s and don’ts, and I think we need to be careful about how we teach this lesson, particularly keeping in mind that we will be teaching youth in many different countries and circumstances. The “Come, Follow Me” lesson plan for the Young Women is found here.
Why do we have a Sabbath Day?
Read Genesis 2:2-3. Why do the youth think it’s important that God rested on the seventh day? What does this mean for us? Possible answers could include that God has set apart one day for rest, so we should also set apart time to rest from our labors. This could also tie into the idea of moderation in all things – even God, who is the Supreme Creator, took time off from creating to rest.
The Hebrew word for “Sabbath” is “shabbat,” which means “to cease.” What kinds of things can we “cease” on the Sabbath Day to make it more meaningful in our own lives?
Read Mark 2:27. “The Sabbath is for the man, not the man for the Sabbath.” How is Sabbath for man (and women)? Are we made to be in service to the Sabbath, or is the Sabbath made in service to us? How is the Sabbath a gift in our lives? It’s my personal opinion that God gave us the Sabbath both as an example and also as a gift. It is God’s example that reminds us to rest from our labors and keep our lives moderate. It is a gift in that we are given one day to really reorient our lives towards God: observing the Sabbath can be a ritual that we use to check in with ourselves, evaluate how our lives are lining up with the goals and standards that we set for ourselves, and then make adjustments as needed. We are also given the Sacrament as part of this ritual – the Sacrament serves as a weekly reminder of the covenants that we’ve made so that we can remember the promises we’ve made and balance our lives accordingly.
How do we keep the Sabbath Day holy in our lives?
Ask the youth to read Mark 2:1-26 (the verses directly preceding the verse we just discussed). What is the context for verse about the Sabbath being for us, and not us for the Sabbath? What was Christ doing before teaching that principle? He was eating with sinners, healing the sick, forgiving sins – all on the Sabbath. So the scribes and Pharisees see him doing this, and confront him about breaking the Mosaic law in regards to the Sabbath. What can we learn about Christ doing these things? We can learn that, one, the Mosaic law was fulfilled in Christ, and as such, we have to reach higher and towards the spirit of the law when we try to keep God’s commandments. As such, making formal universal rules about what is and isn’t ok on the Sabbath isn’t in the spirit of Christ’s teachings in Mark – instead, we need to recognize that Sabbath Day worship and observance will look different for different people.
It might also be worth mentioning that the Sabbath Day isn’t always Sunday around the world – in predominantly Muslim countries, for example, Sabbath services are held on Fridays. If we have jobs or other circumstances that prevent us from keeping Sunday as our day of rest, we can always set aside another day to rest and worship. However, we should prioritize attending our church meetings and receiving the Sacrament as much as possible in our individual circumstances.
Read the following quote from James E. Faust’s talk, “The Lord’s Day,” in October 1991 General Conference:
The Mosaic injunctions of Sabbath day observance contained many detailed do’s and don’ts. This may have been necessary to teach obedience to those who had been in captivity and had long been denied individual freedom of choice. Thereafter, these Mosaic instructions were carried to many unwarranted extremes which the Savior condemned. In that day the technicalities of Sabbath day observance outweighed the “weightier matters of the law” (Matt. 23:23) such as faith, charity, and the gifts of the Spirit.
In our time God has recognized our intelligence by not requiring endless restrictions. Perhaps this was done with a hope that we would catch more of the spirit of Sabbath worship rather than the letter thereof. In our day, however, this pendulum of Sabbath day desecration has swung very far indeed. We stand in jeopardy of losing great blessings promised. After all, it is a test by which the Lord seeks to “prove you in all things” (D&C 98:14) to see if your devotion is complete.
Where is the line as to what is acceptable and unacceptable on the Sabbath? Within the guidelines, each of us must answer this question for ourselves. While these guidelines are contained in the scriptures and in the words of the modern prophets, they must also be written in our hearts and governed by our conscience. Brigham Young said of the faithful, “The spirit of their religion leaks out of their hearts.” (Journal of Discourses, 15:83.) It is quite unlikely that there will be any serious violation of Sabbath worship if we come humbly before the Lord and offer him all our heart, our soul, and our mind.
Keeping in mind that Sabbath observance will look different for all of us in our diverse lives, what principles can we look towards to guide us in making these decisions for ourselves? Share the following quote from Chieko Okazaki in her essay “Christ and Culture,” found in the book “Disciples” on pages 148-149:
In the family of my husband, Ed, Sundays were a time for the entire family to gather at the home of the widowed mother, to talk, to laugh, to play cards, to gamble a little — never very much — to eat a big meal, to play the guitar and sing, and to drink a few beers. After we got married, we were living on Maui near Ed’s mother, so I was included as part of the family in these Sunday gatherings. Because I went to Sunday School in the mornings and sacrament meeting in the evenings, it meant that Ed and I came a little later than some of the other siblings and in-laws and left a little earlier. I always gave him his choice about going earlier or staying later, but he decided it was important for us to be together, so his family adapted to his slight change in schedule and still made us welcome.
Because I was a Mormon, I would not drink coffee, and I had never drunk beer, but that was no big deal. There were plenty of other things to drink. So that was not a difficulty. But ten months after we were married, Ed studied the gospel and joined the Church. My mother-in-law was not pleased. Mormons were not as respectable as Congregationalists (that was the church Ed had been raised in), and besides that, she thought that a wife should adopt the religion of the husband — not the other way around. Also, Ed stopped gambling during the card games, passed up the coffee at dinner, and drank water instead of beer. These were differences that his brother and sister noticed and teased him about, but he just smiled and took the teasing in good part. Thus, even though Ed’s mother disapproved of his conversion, Ed stayed focused on the principle behind the family gatherings — that these were times to be together and involved in each other’s lives, to show that we loved each other and enjoyed being together.
But what would have happened if we had stayed away? Or gone and delivered long lectures about the evils of gambling or about the importance of keeping the Word of Wisdom? This behavior would have violated the principle of family unity that we were trying to sustain and uphold. It was no trouble to take hot water instead of tea. And best of all, Ed’s brother also later joined the Church.
So this is the first point I would like you to remember. Before you dismiss any cultural practice, think about the principle behind it, decide if this principle is one you also believe, and see if you can find a way to participate in it in a way that honors that principle.
I love how Sister Okazaki illustrates how she balances family time with her own beliefs. We will often be asked to make these kinds of careful negotiations in our own lives, and we need to be careful to not privilege principles over people – remember that Christ emphasized that the two great commandments are quite similar, found in Matthew 22:32-36:
36. Master, which is the great commandment in the law?
37. Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.
38. This is the first and great commandment.
39. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.
I would close with reminding the youth that “the Lord looketh upon the heart,” and that as long as we approach our Sabbath Day worship and observance with an eye towards Him, that our offering will be acceptable. Encourage the youth to ponder upon the principle and think of ways to implement this kind of ritualistic reorientation in their lives, and ways that they can rest and make the Sabbath more meaningful in their lives.
Other Exponent resources about The Sabbath: