Retrieve the ‘lost Sabbath’

“In those days, all the princes of Judah, the priests, and the people added infidelity to infidelity, practicing all the abominations of the nations and polluting the Lord’s temple” (2 Chr 36:14-16,19-23). Now I’ll admit that most of us don’t practice “abominations” (although the news is full of such things) or “pollute the Lord’s temple” (unless you count a tissue left in the hymnal rack, but that’s probably not what they’re talking about).

But this passage isn’t only about abominations and pollution. It’s also about infidelity. The people were unfaithful to God and to God’s law. Last Sunday in the reading from Exodus we heard: “Remember to keep holy the Sabbath day. Six days you may labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord, your God. No work may be done then either by you, or your son or daughter, or your male or female slave, or your beast, or by the alien who lives with you.” But the people forgot. They did not keep the Sabbath holy. And so, for 70 years, the land laid “in waste and rest” until it had “retrieved its lost Sabbaths.” These words spoken by God through the prophet, Jeremiah, may not be familiar to us, but the idea of “lost Sabbaths” is as familiar as fast food on Sunday.

With people working five, six and even seven days a week, not only is work done on the Sabbath, but shopping centers and malls – and the people who work there – are often busier on Sunday (the Christian Sabbath) than on regular “work” days. In other words, like the people of Judah, we seem to have ‘lost’ our Sabbath.

We’ve heard a great deal recently about the importance of allowing the Ten Commandments to be displayed in public places. Politicians and clergy declare the importance of holding up the Christian principles upon which our country was founded while those opposed protest that such displays violate the separation of church and state. Unfortunately, however, while the debate over displaying the words continues, we seem to have forgotten that we are also to be faithful to them.Maybe it’s time to go back and read that part about infidelity and lost Sabbaths again – maybe on Sunday, after church, in front of the fire or over a nice, leisurely, home-cooked family dinner.

Van Benthem is a member of the Secular Franciscan Order and a longtime pastoral minister in the diocese.