My grandmother’s witness to Sabbath

I was at my grandmother’s funeral when I heard a speaker tell a story about her asking to borrow a cup of sugar on Sunday. It’s amazing what you can learn about a person at their funeral. “Yes, Clarice called me on Sunday afternoon. She said she needed a cup of sugar for her cobbler she was making. I told Clarice, “Clarice, I’m happy to give you a cup of sugar, but why don’t you just go to the store?” Clarice said, “Because it’s the Sabbath. I can’t shop on the Sabbath.”

That story summed up my grandparents. They loved God’s way of life and they tried everyday to live it out. One of the most concrete practices I can remember from them was their observance of the Sabbath. I remember visiting them on many occasions at their home on St. Simons Island. It was a given we were attending church. And after church, we headed back to their house for a big meal. We sat at the kids table in the kitchen while they sat in the dining room. We’d sit at the table for an hour with fried chicken and cornbread. Afterward lunch, my parents would rock on the porch while my cousins and I would fish for bream at the pond in their back yard. My grandfather would head to his room with his tie undone and shoes off. He would recline in his green chair and turn on TBS to watch the Atlanta Braves. He would lay there the whole afternoon. Interestingly enough he believed it was fine to watch the Braves on Sunday, but he wouldn’t think of attending the game in person on Sunday. And he could fall asleep with remote in hand, then wake up and give you a summary of the game including his critique of manger Bobby Cox. There was another time as a kid that my grandparents came to our house. After church, we had our family meal. I was putting on my baseball cleats to head for a Sunday afternoon practice. I was heading to the car when my grandfather stopped me and he said, “Where are you heading?” I said, “To baseball practice.” He said, “It’s Sunday. This is the Lord’s day.” My mother smoothed it over and I headed on to practice. But those moments have stuck with me. Because as I think back to those days with my grandparents, Sundays always felt different. They did indeed feel separate.

We live in a different age. The day of blue law store closings on Sundays are passing away. I certainly don’t mean to pile on guilt for those young people who practice sports on Sundays. But there’s a message in there. The Sabbath day was part of the Ten Commandments from Exodus 20. For some folks, those laws may seem a little dated to today’s fast-paced, get ahead modern life. And yet, I find I speak to people running with their hair on fire and they tell me, “I just need a day off. I’m just burned out. I just want to enjoy time with my family and I don’t know how.” There are days I feel the same. It’s in those moments I remember that God’s law is filled with promises of a better life. From the foundations of the earth, God designed us to work hard and to put in the sweat and earn a living and cart children in our mini-vans across the city for piano lessons. Then God taught us to take a day to rest and relax. It reminded me again that God’s laws are not meant to be restrictive and oppressive. They are designed with a promise of life in mind. The good book tells us, “the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work.” What if instead we read it this way, “on the Sabbath you shall have time to put your feet up on the couch. You shall have time to play Chutes and Ladders with your children without the added guilt of not getting your work done. You shall have time to invite over friends for a big meal without needing to rush away. You shall take an hour to lay in the hammock.” How does a day like that sound?

At my grandmother’s funeral, I remembered a special connection to God on those Sabbath days. Without her, would I ever know again the pleasures of Sunday afternoons like I did when I was a kid? Although I didn’t always like being told no, there was always a yes inside of it. It was yes to a life with God, a yes to a checkers game with my brother, a yes to bike rides with dad. God says we get a day like that every week.

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