Whether the sabbath day is recognized as being on Saturday in the Law of Moses or on Sunday following the Resurrection of our Savior—let it be any day of the week—one thing is always certain: thou shalt not swim on the sabbath.
Growing up with a swimming pool in our backyard, this was one of the first things I learned about the sabbath day. In six days the Lord made “made heaven, and earth, the sea, and all that therein is” (Psalm 146:6), and the seventh day He forbid man from swimming and rested. Such was my primitive understanding as a child.
Well, to be honest, that wasn't all I understood then. I also knew we would be going to church where we would have to be quiet while someone spoke for ages. At least there was always that bread and water snack halfway through. Eventually, after enough Sundays like this, I began to grasp that some other Father that I had and my own Brother were responsible for this situation. That because of them, I was not allowed to do any of the fun things my neighborhood friends did on Sunday. Oh did I have a lot to learn. Luckily, I had some spare time since God essentially sent me to time-out every seventh day.
I learned that under the direction of this Father—apparently the Father of my Spirit—my Brother, one Jesus Christ, created everything. They created the Sun, the Moon, the Earth, the stars in the sky, the land, the sea, the plants, the animals, man and woman. They created you. They created me. I could barely color inside the lines to make them a card—let alone procure the materials to do so—and here they had seen fit to go out of their way, find the materials, and construct an entire universe for me. Six days or six thousand years—I don't care what star your time is relative to—that is a lot of work. Real, hard, creative work. Just think of all the insect variations you would have to come up with. They did it though. They did it for you, and they did it for me.
“Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them. And on the seventh day God ended his work which he had made; and he rested on the seventh day from all his work which he had made. And God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it: because that in it he had rested from all his work” (Genesis 2:1-3).
There, in God's very first example to man, He had worked diligently for six days, and then rested on the seventh, and sanctified it. Before the fall, before the revelation of the Gospel, before any other command save the first two, God had instructed man by example to set aside every seventh—every sabbath—day, as a day of rest, a day to sanctify. The principle must be worthwhile, must have some power, if only it could be understood. It must be more than some silly injunction. It must be more than some test of faith or willingness.
I was young, however. All I could understand at that point is that the true owner of my swimming pool asked me to not swim in it on Sundays, though he permitted me to the other six days of the week. I could accept that. He also wanted me to attend church. That wasn't too hard either. I usually colored or laid on mom's lap while the people droned on at the pulpit, and then we sang songs, played games, and learned a thing or two in primary. Not a bad deal. Even then I could tell who was making out ahead in this arrangement. This was something I could live with.
This sort of “paying your dues” ancient Israelite philosophy works functionally, and served me well for a number of years. At times, it even worked out to my advantage. “Oh, sorry, I really would like to help you out, but I can't take your shift on Sunday.” I imagine Adam felt a little relieved too when he realized some of the implications of the sabbath day. “So, um, remember that thing about 'by the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread'...'all the days of thy life'...just making sure...this sabbath day takes priority right? I can take a day off and I'll still have bread?”
And so Adam found himself with an entire day to rest. A day where he was not allowed to go to the fields, tend to livestock, hunt in the forest, mend the tools, or fix things around the home. As he was able to push these worries from his mind (since it would do no good to think about what he could not do) he was left to thoughts that were quieter, thoughts not screaming for his attention throughout the work week.
When he wasn't out pulling weeds, the Earth seemed much more beautiful, and he was grateful for its creator. When he wasn't completely exhausted from a hard day's labor it was more fun to play around with the young kids, and he was grateful for family. When he wasn't trying to figure out a way to keep the rain from dripping in on the newborn's bed, he had time to “ponder on the beauty of an earth made clean again” (Children’s Songbook - When I am Baptized). He had time to think of what he needed to do to “be as clean as earth right after rain.”
Adam had time to write the scriptures. He had time to pray. He had time to learn. He had time to teach. He had time to worship. He not only rested on the sabbath day, he sanctified it. He made it holy. He did these things throughout the week, but he was grateful for the day that was unencumbered by worldly, physical cares, the day when he could commune with God.
Adam understood what I did not understand when I was younger. The command to keep the sabbath day holy is not just a whimsical “let's see if we can get them to do this...” to prove if we will be loyal to our God. The Savior tried to dispel this idea when he stated, “The sabbath was made for man, and not man for the sabbath” (Mark 2:27). Man was not made so that God could play around with him, arbitrarily command him, and curse him until he worships just so that God can feel superior. He has already stated that His “work and his glory” (Moses 1:39) is to make us equal to Him, joint heirs of eternal life. The command to keep the sabbath day holy directly targets this goal.
The sabbath day is a day to rest from all our temporal affairs so that we can direct our full attention to spiritual ones. It is a great blessing to know that the more fully we can ignore our temporal affairs on the sabbath, the more successful we will be in them.
God promised to the Israelites of old, “Ye shall keep my sabbaths, and reverence my sanctuary: I am the Lord. If ye walk in my statutes and keep my commandments, and do them: Then I will give you rain in due season, and the land shall yield her increase...and ye shall eat your bread to the full, and dwell in your land safely” (Leviticus 26:2-5).
And on the same subject, he spoke to our generation, “Verily I say, that inasmuch as ye do this, the fulness of the earth is yours, the beasts of the field and the fowls of the air...Yea, and the herb, and the good things which come of the earth, whether for food or for raiment, or for houses, or for barns, or for orchards, or for gardens, or for vineyards;” (D&C 59:16-17).
Clearly, the Lord wants us to perform our temporal labors six days of the week, and he promises that our efforts will be fruitful if we leave them be on the seventh. His goal is for us to have time to really focus on our spiritual well being. All too often, it's all we can do during the week to keep ourselves from falling off the straight and narrow path, let alone make any progress towards the end goal. He wants us to then have that one day in the week where spiritual yearnings are not engaged in a competition with our temporal well being, and all we have to do is make ourselves available.
I had the privilege of meeting the Icawat family in the Philippines. The Philippines is very much a third world nation. Almost everywhere I went, the unemployment rate was about 50%. Brother Icawat was a tricycle driver. He was self-employed and used his motorcycle with an attached sidecar to taxi people around.
Sunday was by far the busiest day for tricycle drivers. Everyone went to the market on Sundays. It was perhaps the only day where the demand for tricycles met the available supply. Other days tricycle drivers would wait in line for up to an hour waiting their turn for a passenger. When Brother Icawat started learning the gospel, he began to use that time in line to read the Book of Mormon despite the taunts of his fellow tricyclists.
One day, Brother Icawat decided it would be worthwhile to attend church. He could spare a few of his precious Sunday work hours. I don't think he knew what he was getting himself into. When he attended Sunday school, the lesson was on the sabbath day. He learned all about how he needed to give up working on his most profitable day. He realized how much more he'd be waiting in line on weekdays just so he could purchase rice for his family. He knew he had to do it though, and that night he went home to inform Sister Icawat that she'd no longer be able to provide manicures on her most profitable day and that the whole family would be going to church the following Sunday. He trusted that the Lord would bless his family for keeping the sabbath day holy, then simply re-arranged his schedule to do so.
Brother Icawat's example taught me how very simple it was to keep the sabbath day holy. He made it seem so easy. He just decided then and there how it was going to be done. He didn't even seem to think of it as a sacrifice or self-denial. It was “merely a matter of shifting times and choosing seasons” (Spencer W. Kimball - The Sabbath—A Delight), and he was blessed because of it.
As I grew up, I learned that perhaps the greatest blessing we receive when we keep the sabbath day holy was that halftime bread and water snack called the sacrament. I learned what it was and why we partook of it, and eventually I was even allowed to pass it.
I remember when I was a deacon, my aging grandmother was no longer able to make it out to church. The bishop authorized my father and I to take the sacrament to her each week. I remember it seemed kind of silly to see that single piece of bread and lone cup of water sitting there on the table. I remember how odd it was that I didn't even have to take a step to deliver the small tray from my father's hand to hers. But I also remember how none of this seemed the least bit silly or odd to her. She could not have been more grateful to have the opportunity. There was something about this ordinance that I couldn't quite yet understand that gave her such a deep appreciation for it.
As it turns out, as I grew up, life afforded me many chances to make mistakes, and as far as I can gather, that seems to be quite common among us. So, God, in his mercy, provided us with the sacrament as a weekly checkpoint. There will be a final judgment at the end of this life, and Jesus Christ will be our judge. That much is certain. However, Paul in his epistle to the Corinthians notes an interesting fact in connection with the sacrament. He states that “if we would judge ourselves, we should not be judged” (1 Corinthians 11:31). Therefore, “let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of that cup” (1 Corinthians 11:28).
The weekly ordinance of the sacrament provides the ideal time for true introspection and commitment. Elder Callister taught, “The sacrament is a time when we not only remember the Savior, but we match our life against that of the Great Exemplar. It is a time to put aside all self-deception; it is a time of absolute truth. All excuses, all facades must fall by the wayside, allowing our spirit, as it really is, to commune with our Father. At this moment we become our own judge, contemplating what our life really is and what it really should be” (Tad R. Callister - The Infinite Atonement). Like David of old, we in essence plead, “Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts: and see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting” (Psalm 139:23-24). “It is during such solemn, sacred moments that the sacrament becomes a place of commitment wherein we can resolve to put our lives in order with the divine standard from which we have deviated...In those sacred, reflective moments...as our thoughts turn to [Christ], there is a certain ‘gravitational’ pull from spirit to Spirit that draws us heavenward” (Tad R. Callister - The Infinite Atonement).
When I finally felt this, I knew why my grandmother held such a deep reverence for the ordinance. I had experienced what power those emblems hold. Is it any wonder why we are asked to partake of them every week?
“And Jesus said unto them, I am the bread of life: he that cometh to me shall never hunger; and he that believeth on me shall never thirst...Verily verily I say unto you, Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you. Whoso eateth my flesh and drinketh my blood hath eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is meat indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, dwelleth in me, and I in him” (John 6:35, 53-57).
I know that Jesus is the Christ, that he atoned for the sins of the world, that the sacrament was instituted to remind of us that, that when we partake of it, we agree with all our honor, whatever that may be worth, to close the gap between the life we are leading, and the life we should be leading. I know that through him we can be cleansed if we will but judge ourselves and repent.
I know that the sabbath day was provided as a day for such an ordinance, a day to rest from our temporal labors and be left free to tend to the spiritual, and I agree with Brigham Young, who said, “We are under the necessity of assembling here from Sabbath to Sabbath, and in Ward meetings,...to teach, talk, pray, sing, and exhort. What for? To keep us in remembrance of our God and our holy religion. Is this custom necessary? Yes; because we are so liable to forget—so prone to wander, that we need to have the Gospel sounded in our ears as much as once, twice, or thrice a week, or, behold, we will turn again to our idols” (Brigham Young - Discourses).
It is my prayer that we may remember the sabbath day to keep it holy and take advantage of the blessing of the sacrament that we may draw closer to our Father in Heaven.
In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.