There has been an increased emphasis by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on Sabbath day observance. Though not the best-known commandment, it is nevertheless one of great importance to God.
Following the creation of the Earth, God blessed and sanctified the seventh day to rest from our labors. He reiterated the importance of the day to Moses, who came down from Mount Sinai bringing the Ten Commandments. The children of Israel were first admonished to worship God, and then, in the fourth commandment, told to “Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. “ (Exodus 20:8)
The Hebrew word “Shabbat” means rest or cessation of labor. It contemplates quiet tranquility, peace of mind and spirit. Observance of the Sabbath, however, goes beyond simply resting from our labors. We are directed to sanctify the day, to make it holy.
The Lord described observance of the Sabbath as a perpetual covenant between him and the children of Israel. That commandment has never been revoked or modified.
One of President Brigham Young’s first sermons after the saints arrived in the Salt Lake Valley contained the admonition to honor the Sabbath day and keep it holy, and no matter how difficult their circumstances, not to engage in manual labor on the Sabbath.
While directing that we not do any work, the scriptures also answer the question of what we should do on the Sabbath. Jesus’ response to the Pharisees who challenged His healing of the sick on the Sabbath is short and to the point. “Wherefore it is lawful to do well on the Sabbath day” (Matt 12:12).
The prophet Isaiah described the Sabbath as a delight: He said, “If thou turn away … from doing thy pleasure on my holy day; and call the sabbath a delight, … and shalt honour [the Lord], not doing thine own ways, nor finding thine own pleasure, nor speaking thine own words:
“Then shalt thou delight thyself in the Lord.”(Isa 58:13).
How do we make the Sabbath a delight? Elder Russell M. Nelson made that question the subject of his April 2015 conference address. He describes the healing effect on the mind and body of having a day to change gears, to rest and refresh our souls.
Among the activities he suggests for making the Sabbath a delight are studying the scriptures, strengthening family ties and rendering service to others, including those who are not feeling well, those who are lonely or those in need. Serving others has the remarkable effect of lifting our own spirit.
Having spent six days on temporal things, we should use the Sabbath to emphasize the spiritual. It is difficult, if not impossible, to think of things of the spirit while engaged in our daily activities. The Sabbath is a time to contemplate our relationship with God, to meditate, study the scriptures, attend church and to practice religion.
The disciple James said that “pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world” (James 1:27).
There are employees in certain essential services who have no option but to work on the Sabbath., such as those who serve and protect the community. President Spencer W. Kimball expressed the thought that “some of the work that is truly necessary — caring for the sick, for example — may actually serve to hallow the Sabbath.”
In deciding our Sabbath observance we might consider the statement of Elder Mark E. Petersen, who said: “The manner in which we spend the Sabbath is a sign of our inner attitude toward (God) .... Observance of the Sabbath is an indication of the depth of our conversion.” (Conference address, 1975)
Glenna M. Christensen is a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
The Idaho Statesman’s weekly faith column features a rotation of writers from many different faiths and perspectives.