Sporting with sabbath
It is a chorus spoken only too often today: Why are so many sporting events planned for a Sunday Morning? Don't they know people go to church on Sunday?* Whatever happened to keeping Sunday as a Holy Sabbath?
The injunction to keep the sabbath day holy is repeated many times in the Bible, and different reasons are given with different utterances. One of the common reasons for keeping a sabbath, a day of rest, harkens to the story of creation: on the seventh day, God rested from God's labors, "so God blessed the seventh day and hallowed it." (Genesis 2:3) Deuteronomy has a different reason for keeping sabbath: it is in remembrance of a time when the people could not make the choice to rest. When the Hebrew people were enslaved in Egypt they were forced to work all the time and could not make the choice to be at ease. Therefore, in the new liberated society that emerged, God commanded the people to take a day of rest, and extend the day to all people, everyone in the household including offspring and workers, even animals were included in this day of rest (although wives specifically are not mentioned in the text, other household females are included). God commands us to take a day off of work because we can; we have the freedom to not work. We are not enslaved by the Sabbath, but celebrate the freedom to rest from labors; take a sabbath.
In my various readings so far this week, I have noticed an interesting phenomenon: sabbath or Sabbath? In some commentaries, "Sabbath" is capitalized and typically follows "Holy", also capitalized. In others, "sabbath" is lowercase. This even holds true in different translations of the Bible - every New Revised Standard Version in my office has a lowercase "s" for sabbath, every New International has an uppercase. The designation highlights the difference between different understandings of sabbath, and Sabbath. Sabbath, with an uppercase, commands attention, it is a distinct thing that needs specific actions and intents. The Holy Sabbath, all capitalized, does indeed refer to an inviolate day where the correct way to celebrate is to do no work, even accidentally. Do not carry a pen in your pocket incase you might be tempted to work. Cell phones, computers, definitely out. There are some people who in strict observance of Sabbath cannot even flip a light switch.
With a lowercase "s", sabbath simply refers to a day of rest. The focus of the day is refreshment of soul, mind, and body, worshiping the Living God. It is a holy time of prayer and contemplation, but there is the freedom to wash the dishes as necessary, turn on the lights when needed, drive to see family. The command to rest is still in place; the sabbath is a gift to us, we are not slaves to the Sabbath.
* "they" typically refers to coaches and conferences that schedule student sporting events.