eighteen long years, be set free from this bondage on the sabbath day? (Luke
mornings. I have two points to
make. The first is that our attitudes
about Sunday may be linked to rules and expectations – we may be here because,
at some level, we think we should be here for various reasons – our duty
to God, our duty to the church, to one another.
I think we all get this. The
second is that we are here because we need to be here, we need the
healing that only God can be give us. I
wonder if we all get this. I want to
suggest that when we understand the difference between should be here and need
to be here, we can be more effective at convincing others to join us on
If you don’t know this particular gospel story from St.
Luke, I am sure that you know many like it.
Many times in the gospels, Jesus does something on the Sabbath which
offends the Jewish leaders, who insist that all work is prohibited on the
Sabbath because of their religious law.
Many sermons on these kinds of gospel readings follow the same line,
namely that the religion of Jesus’ day was built
on laws and rules, whereas Jesus is all about being true to God rather than
following man-made rules. Personally, I
don’t think this sort of interpretation is very helpful, because it keeps us
from asking a more important question, which is what is the Sabbath, or Sunday
in our context, really for?
Why do we come to church? When
there are so many more things that we could be doing on Sunday, why do we feel
the need to come here and spend the best part of the morning doing what we
do? if I passed out paper and pencils
and asked you to write down your own individual answer, and then asked you to
pass them up to me, I am sure I would get a wide range of responses. You might be here to be with your friends,
your parish family, or because you love this church. You might be here because you love the hymns
and like to sing, or because you feel a sense of responsibility to keep this
all going in age when fewer and fewer seem to need it. Maybe, to some degree or other, all of
these things are working at different levels in us. But I wonder, how many of us are here
because, like the bent-over women in the gospel, we are here because we Jesus’ help?
church on Sunday morning, it’s worth thinking about
what the expectation was in Jesus’ time. The obligation to honour and keep the
Sabbath was part of Jewish law, as given in the Torah. As you may remember, the fourth of the ten
commandments given to Moses was to “Remember the
Sabbath day and keep it holy” (Ex
20:8). This commandment formed the
basis for the many laws and customs which forbade work on the Sabbath, customs
which many observant Jews follow to this day.
The idea behind these laws and customs was to create a way of life in
which the faithful were constantly reminded of their relationship to God, and
of their dependence on God. As I said
earlier, sometimes when we read the gospels these laws seem petty and foolish,
but when you think about it, the idea of a way of life in relationship to God
sounds quite attractive.
is no real evidence of that. What seems
more likely is that Jesus had a different understanding of the Sabbath law.
Fourth Commandment in the Old Testament.
The first, from Exodus 20, “links the
Sabbath to the first creation account in Genesis, where God rests after six
days of labor. As God rested, so should we and all of our households and even
animals rest.” https://www.workingpreacher.org/craft.aspx?post=1588
day, and keep it holy. 9For six days you shall
labour and do all your work. 10But the seventh day is
a sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work—you, your son or your
daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the alien resident in
your towns. 11For in six days the Lord made heaven and
earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested the seventh day; therefore
the Lord blessed the sabbath day and consecrated it.
The second version of the Fourth Commandment is found in Deuteronomy 5
where, according to Lose, it “links Sabbath to
freedom, to liberty, to release from bondage and deliverance from captivity.”
day and keep it holy, as the Lord your God commanded you. 13For six days you shall labour and do all your work. 14But the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do
any work—you, or your son or your daughter, or your male or female
slave, or your ox or your donkey, or any of your livestock, or the resident
alien in your towns, so that your male and female slave may rest as well as
you. 15Remember that you were a slave in the land
of Egypt, and the Lord your God brought you out from there with a mighty hand
and an outstretched arm; therefore the Lord your God commanded you to keep the
is a day to remember God’s freeing his people
from their captivity in liberation. The
Sabbath is not just a day to take a break from work, but it is also associated
with God rescuing and saving the people that he promised Abraham that he would
create out of his descendants.
Sabbath as liberation and salvation, may be what Jesus is thinking of here in
Luke when he confronts his opponents.
Jesus’ calling the woman a “daughter of
Abraham” (Lk 13:16) is telling, I think. By linking her with Abraham, Jesus is
reminding his opponents of God’s promise to create and
bless a people that would arise out of Abraham’s
descendants. By linking his healing of
her physical condition with freeing her from her sin, her “bondage” to “Satan”, Jesus is linking his ministry with God’s saving of
Israel in the Old Testament. Just as God
led his people out of slavery in Egypt, so now will Jesus lead his followers
out of their slavery to their sin.
Sunday (the day associated with Christ’s
resurrection). Christian’s celebrated
Sunday as the day of Christ’s victory over death,
the victory that points the way towards our own salvation. Over the centuries Christians assumed that
the Fourth Commandment applied to Sunday, and observed Sunday as a day of rest,
as a day not to work or shop or drink or whatever.
about how we as Christians should see think about Sunday and why we go to
church. What if we got rid of our ideas
that Sunday was a day of obligation, that we come to church because, somehow,
it is where we have to be. What if,
instead, we came to church because we know that we, like the bent woman in today’s Gospel,
need to be healed? What if we came to
church out of a sense of dependance on Jesus as the one person who can free us
from sin, from all that we don’t like about ourselves
and the world around us? What if church
was the place where we turned to Jesus, confident that he can heal and free
us? What if we came to church out of an
immense sense of gratitude that Jesus has allowed us to straighten up, to
unbend ourselves, and to stand free of all the burdens that have been laid on
us over the years? If we had the faith
to come to church for these reasons, and the belief and the courage to invite
others to come to church for these reasons, then I think that we would be well
on our way to revitalizing this church.