I usually work on Sundays. That’s what I do. That’s what I have done for at least the last decade. I have worked on Sundays. So when I have some vacation time, as I did this past week, I often find myself pondering the meaning of Sundays–asking questions like, “What’s all the hype about?” or “Does Sunday really matter anymore?” And “How do we talk about Sundays without laying a guilt trip on people?”.
For me, the importance of a Sunday is tied up in worship and rest. Worship is central to who we are as Christians and is of special significance in smaller congregations. Worship is the place we bring our joys and concerns to be held in a sacred way by those gathered. Worship is the place we hear music that speaks to parts of us that are inaccessible via the spoken word. Worship is where we wrestle with ancient texts that have spoken truths to countless generations, as we ponder what truth this generation might glean from its pages. Worship is where we come together and seek to know God and know one another more deeply.
Rest, on the other hand, is essential to abundant life as humans. In our hustle culture, it is even more important to take a break or take a step back, and recharge, renew, and refresh. Rest is a resistance to the strain of maintaining the status quo, creating space that helps us remember, as Tricia Hersey says in her book, Rest Is Resistance: A Manifesto, “We were not just born to center our entire existence on work and labor. We were born to heal, to grow, to be of service to ourselves and our community, to practice, to experiment, to create, to have space, to dream, and to connect.” Rest, then, is the action and the inaction that helps us be who we were born to be.
But these things–worship and rest–aren’t so much about the calendar day of the week, so much as they are about the practice of Sabbath. Many religious people–both inside and outside of Christianity–have an understanding of Sabbath–even if they call it something else. And while Sabbath has generically been understood as a day of rest, I submit that it is more of an invitation. Toni Ann Reynolds explains, “Sabbath is an invitation to healthy freedom. Freedom to decide what element(s) of your weekly life hinder, or simply strain your relationship with God. Whatever the answer is, that’s the thing that should be put on rest. If not for a full day, then after 5pm; or before noon each day. Ultimately, rules aside, it is up to each of us to govern ourselves in a way that keeps us moving in the Light of Love.”
I love that way of looking at Sabbath because it allows for evolution and growth and for things to be true for a season, and then true no more. I love thinking of Sabbath as an intentional reflection on my relationship with God, and a summons to live in such a way that keeps me moving in the Light of Love. I love understanding that Sabbath can happen beyond a given day on the calendar, while fully filling a specific calendar day with more light and truth and hope than a heart can hold all at once.
What I realized on my Sunday off work is that what some people say is true, “Sunday is just another day.” And, I realized that it doesn’t have to be. Sundays can be a time where we decide what elements of our weekly life hinder, or simply strain our relationship with God. Sundays can hold great depth, connection, and solace during worship and in opportunities for fellowship. Sundays can also hold the opportunity for rest. For refraining from connection with anyone or anything but the Divine. And all of it is holy. All of it is sacred.
Don’t get me wrong, I think gathering together on Sunday mornings to worship is SO important. And, I also know that sometimes all that comes with a Sunday morning–getting up, getting ready, getting to the church, getting prepared to have people talk to you, getting prepared to participate, getting prepared to listen to the pastor talk–all of it–can sometimes get in the way of that healthy freedom to which we are called.
And so, when given the choice between Sunday and Sabbath, I encourage you to keep Sabbath. Often these will coincide, but sometimes they won’t. Sometimes they simply can’t. And there is no judgment here. Only an invitation to be intentional about our connections to the Divine and to one another. To be intentional about putting to rest what needs to be put to rest. To be intentional about moving in the Light of Love.
Learning to be intentional about connection with you,
Rev. Melissa Sternhagen
Rev. Melissa Sternhagen was called as the pastor of St. Paul Congregational UCC in June of 2020. Prior to her call to St. Paul, Pr. Melissa worked as a hospice chaplain in the Ames, IA area, following pastorates at rural churches in Central Iowa and Southern Illinois. Pr. Melissa is a second-career pastor with a background in agribusiness and production & supply operations. She received her M.Div. from Eden Theological Seminary in St. Louis, MO, and holds a MA Ed. in Adult Education and Training, and a BA in Organizational Communications.