The Parish of Burchetts Green

This month Rev Keith writes about

Keeping Sunday Special

In Mark’s Gospel, we see Jesus attending to the needs of people, but at the same time, by symbolic action, challenging the oppressive norms of the day.  ‘Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil?’

Using our Sunday

Maybe how we chose to spend Sunday can be a challenge to the incipient atheism of our culture – its rampant consumerism, it’s undermining of family life.

Gary Grant, the owner and founder of The Entertainer toy shops, decided his stores would close on Sundays. Initially this meant exclusion from big shopping centres but, more recently they’ve been inviting him in. He continues to thrive, competitors have gone bust. Last year Christmas Eve was a Sunday: The Entertainer remained closed. There was plenty of publicity as Gary challenged the norms of our day.

The Importance of a Sabbath

Jesus didn’t criticise the Sabbath itself, but what the establishment had done to it. The underlying principles of Sabbath are important. Why?

Firstly, the cycle of work and rest is built into the created order and we ignore that at our peril. Jesus often withdraws, seeks rest and quiet time with his heavenly Father.  If Jesus needed regular times of rest and quiet communion with God, so will we.

Secondly, as Christians it is vital that we meet together, to worship, to learn and help each other out. Christians have always done this, from the very earliest days. And the reason they met together was to build one another up in their faith and life. As the writer to the Hebrews puts it: ‘Let us consider how we may spur one another on towards love and good deeds; not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but rather encouraging one another in Christ.’

Once upon a time Sunday was a very different day from the rest of week, but much less so now. In Jesus’ day the equivalent of our Sunday was the Sabbath, on Saturday. It was taken very seriously: a hugely symbolic day, echoing back to the Genesis creation story, it reminded them that they were God’s chosen people.

Keeping the Sabbath symbolised belonging. Deeply rooted in the Scriptures, it was the fourth of the Ten Commandments. You didn’t work on the Sabbath: 39 activities were forbid- den and great attention was paid to the minutiae of their observance.

Jesus ruffled feathers!

Due to his authoritative teaching and ability to heal, Jesus became hugely popular. Then the mood changed as he began to ruffle feathers and to challenge the elite of his day.

This caused much disquiet amongst the establishment. So, in an ancient MI5 operation, they started spying and soon caught Jesus’ disciples breaking rule three of the 39 prohibitions: thou shalt not reap. Only a few grains of corn, but a red line had been crossed.

Then their spies caught Jesus in a synagogue faced by a request for the healing of a shrivelled hand. Healing on the Sabbath was only allowed if life was in danger. – clearly not so here. Jesus sensed the opposition of the establishment. He challenged them: ‘Which is lawful on the Sabbath; to do good or to do evil.’ They had no answer. Jesus restored the man’s hand.

This was too much for the Pharisees, so much so that they allied with the Herodians (whom they hated for compromising with the Romans), to find a way of getting rid of Jesus.

A Marmite character

In his day, Jesus was a Marmite character. Few people ‘quite like’ Marmite. You either love it or hate it. Although sometimes Jesus’ words could be cryptic, they were not waffle nor were they benign.