A friend of mine recently mentioned seeing people mow grass, tar a roof, and cut weeds, all on a Sunday morning. Now, you may wonder why this merits comment, but some people see such work as disrespectful toward the Lord’s Day, the Sabbath, Sunday. Most of us elders raised in the South will remember the days of shuttered stores, empty workplaces, and limited recreation on Sunday. The Sabbath was the day of rest, and we were to honor it as stated in the Ten Commandments: “Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy.” (Exodus 20:8)
Church attendance was expected of most respectable folks back then — or at least part of the family. In some families, perhaps the dad stayed home like the father in Norman Rockwell’s “Sunday Morning” painting. The man in pajamas slumps in his chair, hiding with the Sunday paper strewn about while the pious mother and obedient children walk out the door in their Sunday best, clutching their Bibles close to heart. Cigarette in hand, the dad has the sports page before him as if waiting for them to leave. I understand that well.
Mama trained us to go to church, but Daddy stayed home, stretched out on the couch, watching our little black-and-white TV with three channels, trying to find something besides religious programs. Other times, he went fishing or went to the beer joint to hang out with other church avoiders. At least he wasn’t lukewarm.
Pollsters at Gallup say half of Americans reported church attendance in the mid-1950s and early 1960s; consequently, more people back then held to the biblical mandate to avoid work on Sunday, or at worst not to be overt about it. If Mama needed to iron some clothes she had sprinkled and did not want them to mildew, she would say, “The ox is in the ditch.” We had plenty of ditches but no ox, so I didn’t quite understand that, but if it meant a little more liberty on Sunday, I wanted to have an ox in the ditch too. (If you are not familiar with the Old Testament, a provision was made in the law to help a helpless animal on the Sabbath — the ox in the ditch.)
Over the years, Sunday gradually opened with the repeal of blue laws that kept businesses shut on Sunday or with delayed openings to prevent competition with Sunday morning worship services. I remember my mama’s conflict about patronizing the stores open on Sunday, feeling that she contributed to their commandment-breaking. Today, when the choir starts “Amazing Grace,” Walmart is wide open, along with other stores and restaurants; although, the ABC store remains closed on Sunday and hunting during Sunday morning church hours prohibited, a couple of throwbacks to Sundays of a different era.
Today, if you ask people professing Christian faith their opinions about how to deal with Sunday, you will get various answers. I know evangelical Christians who have moved on past the Ten Commandments, claiming that Jesus came to do away with the burden of the law about the Sabbath. They feel free to mow grass or not mow grass, wash the car or not wash the car on Sunday. Other Christians still observe Sunday as a non-workday and refrain from labors out of respect for the day and, for some, tradition.
Personally, I like the idea of a day of rest (for that matter all the Ten Commandments make sense for a healthy society), and with the stress most people carry these days, it is most needed. Researchers say our physiology is primed for a sabbath rest, that we have a natural rhythm demanding a period of rest. I try to keep a Sabbath in my heart, but Sunday dinners at Grandma’s see me cooking quite a bit. Somehow, I don’t think God is bothered by that. His own disciples picked and ate grain on the Sabbath, much to the disapproval of the religious leaders of the day. Love covers the law.
Now, as to writing a column on Sunday, well, what can I say. The ox was in the ditch!