It started with the oven and an attempt to include more hot, home-cooked meals in our diet. I saw a dialogue on the panel of the stove that suggested that I should be able to program the oven to start and stop at a certain time. I could already smell a warm, savory casserole, ready for us to sit down and eat at the end of the day. In my pursuit to work more productively, I pressed every combination of buttons that seemed to make sense:
Start time —
Stop time —
Bake temp —
Again not right!
Finally, in disgrace I retreated to the owner’s manual. I was able to find what I needed in the index under Jewish Sabbath Mode. No, really, ovens know how to take the Sabbath! http://products.geappliances.com/appliance/gea-support-search-content?contentId=17357
Ovens know how to take a Sabbath; and we do not.
My mind went quickly to my childhood upbringing and my grandparents’ house on the weekends. My grandparents were God-loving, Sabbath–keeping people. They loved me and they loved Jesus. It was not uncommon to find one or the other singing hymns while they went about their daily chores; granddaddy in the garage cleaning tools, or grandma in the kitchen washing dishes. As a child, I remember hearing the verse: Remember the Sabbath to keep it holy. Perhaps I heard it around the dinner table before a meal. Our family observed the custom of reciting a Bible verse before each meal. One person might have led the prayer to bless the food, but every mouth around the table still had to say something to honor God from the scriptures before it ate. So, even as a small child, you were required to a memorize scripture to be said before consuming the good food that God had provided. And, you were expected to have several scriptures in your memory so that you did not say the same one each time you had a meal.
So around the circle we went:
Lord, we thank you for the food that we are about to receive from Thy bounty. In Jesus’ name.
The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
Remember the Sabbath Day to keep it holy.
Jesus wept. (Jesus wept or God is Love were the verses reserved for the youngest children.)
Table fellowship was an important part of our life together as a family. And, so was the Sabbath. Weekends at my grandparents’ house were frequently filled with the bustle of preparation for the Sabbath. Many weekends, while I was still an elementary school-aged child, the big Sunday meal was cooked on Saturday. It was cooked on Saturday so that we could avoid cooking on Sunday, the Sabbath.
During those years, we did not wash clothes on Sunday. Or iron them. We did no heavy housework on the Sabbath. And most times, we did not cook. We just warmed the food that had been cooked the day before.
On Sunday mornings, we sat somberly and listened to a succession of radio preachers and their sermons.
Did I forget to mention that we were an unchurched family that loved Jesus? Granddaddy had been deeply wounded by the Church years ago and we had no church affiliation. We were affiliated with the tribe of Jesus’ followers, and for him that would have to be enough.
So there we sat on Sunday mornings; somber and quiet around an old RCA radio, hearing sermons from a variety of sources. I think it was there that I first heard Billy Graham. Before or after him, one or more of the local church broadcasts. African-American preachers with a rousing cadence that convinced you that Jesus died for your sins and therefore you should live a more devoted life. We even sat quietly for the Rosary Hour.
Often the radio stayed on until the radio station switched to secular programming. For the remainder of the day, we rested. No work. No cooking. No high-energy playing. Just rest.
If we left the house at all; it was to visit relatives and smile with them for a while before returning home to rest for the remainder of the day, and maybe to go to bed a little earlier because Monday was a work day.
It was a long time before I was able to push past the guilt of working on the Sabbath. I do not know if my sin of Sabbath-breaking began while I was in college having to work three part-time jobs to stay enrolled, or if it was under the influence of friends who had no concept of Sabbath. Or, perhaps it was the pressure of having small children and desperately needing to wash clothes before the grind of the Monday-Saturday work week started all over again.
Once I became of age, joined church, and began to hang out with church folks, I was amazed at the frenzied weekends and seeming lack of Sabbath rest. Somehow, I thought being part of a congregation would take me back to a place in time, remembered and longed for.
I continue in my quest to rediscover Sabbath,
Like a hero, or a warrior on a dangerous epic quest.
I am thwarted on one side by the pressure of time-sensitive work that must be completed.
On the other side, I hear the voice of my grandmother, head-bowed at a meal saying: Remember the Sabbath to keep it holy.
And, all around me are the voices of a culture that screams: faster, faster!
My oven may be programmed to keep the Sabbath; yet I am not, at least not quite yet.
Lord, forgive me.