New Apostolic Church USA

Our Sabbath

"Looking Past Sunday" from the 2020 Spring Vision Newsletter

This article was written before the suspension of divine services, and is not intended to be insentive, but rather to highlight the value of being together, and inspire anticipation of when we can gather in church again.

Distractions are a part of our reality. No matter how hard we try to focus on the task at hand, there are an increasing number of distractions seeking to shift our focus. Maybe it’s the “ding” from our cell phone signifying an email, text message, or social media notification (combine this with the incessant desire to check our phones every 3-5 minutes and you have the perfect focus-destroying combination). Perhaps the interruption comes from a co-worker (statistics show that the typical manager is interrupted every eight minutes, and employees generally spend 28 percent of their time dealing with interruptions and trying to get back on track). Or maybe, just maybe, it’s our own mind that’s wandering here and there, thinking about the million things hanging out on our to-do list or the multitude of concerns weighing heavy on our heart. To be focused and present takes incredible determination, commitment, and intentionality.

Unfortunately, the first six days of the week don’t have a monopoly on distractions, either. Distractions are just as prevalent on Sundays as they are any other day of the week.

Have you ever caught yourself looking past Sunday morning, for instance? Have the events of Sunday afternoon or evening, or perhaps the events of the week ahead, ever eclipsed the wonder of gathering with God’s people? All too easily the temptation arises, at times, to take the divine service experience each Sunday for granted and to start looking forward instead to what lies in front of us. We adopt a “what’s next?” mentality. We’re in worship, but we’re not worshipping. We’re thinking about what comes next. We’re singing a hymn, but we’re not connected to the lyrics or to the reason for and recipient of our rejoicing. We’re thinking about what comes next. The danger here is that our time spent at church slowly becomes an interruption in our week instead of the culmination of it (and the foundation for the week ahead).

The temptation to look past the glorious gathering of God’s people is not unique to us or to this present time, however. Look at what the prophet Amos once had to say to the Israelites: Hear this, you who trample on the needy and bring the poor of the land to an end, saying, “When will the new moon be over, that we may sell grain? And the Sabbath, that we may offer wheat for sale?” (Amos 8:4-5).

The new moon refers to monthly worship that took place in Israel (Numbers 28:11-15). Amos caught God’s people looking past worship. They wished worship would end and the Sabbath be over so that they could get to what they really wanted to do. They were distracted by what was coming next. Notice that they didn’t skip the gathering—they just wanted to get on with it. They wanted to get back to their selling and to the making of money. Really, money was their God, and their time spent with others on the Sabbath was simply a speedbump along their path.

Over time, they had come to take lightly the command that God had given to Moses: Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God (Exodus 20:8-10). Sunday, our Sabbath, is to be dedicated to the Lord. God’s people are commanded to cease from their daily labors and pause to worship Him. How beautiful and edifying it is when we can begin our Sunday together in God’s house, and what an impact this can have on the rest of the day! The strength we receive through worship, God’s word, and Holy Communion gives us all that we need to abide in Him, and to push back against anything that seeks to separate us from Him. As the Apostle Paul once reminded the congregation in Rome, we are more than conquerors through Christ! (Romans 8:37). May this be our feeling and heartfelt expression when we come out of the divine service, having received from the Lord all that was so freely given.

When we fulfill a command, however, the concern is that the thing we are commanded to do can start to feel like an obligation. If we’re not careful, because we’re commanded to gather together and worship God, we can start to see this as an obligation rather than the unprecedented and immeasurable privilege that it is. If our gathering together in the divine service is an obligation, it’s the sweetest one ever known to man. How thankful we should be that God lovingly commands us to cease from our work long enough to enjoy Him in worship, in the sermon, and in Holy Communion. What a holy privilege it is to be still, and know that He is God (Psalm 46:10).

A prominent preacher and author once beautifully summed up the New Testament gathering of God’s people in worship: There was no gathering like this in the world: a people of God’s own possession, chosen before the foundation of the world, destined to be like the Son of God, bought with divine blood, acquitted and accepted before the court of heaven, a new creation on the earth, indwelt by the Creator of the universe, sanctified by the body and blood of Jesus, called to eternal glory, destined to rule with Christ. Never had there been a gathering like this before. It was incomparable on earth.

This is the gathering that we’re invited into every Sunday, brothers and sisters. Do we still see the value in it? Every week, we have the privilege of coming together to worship the Lord in the beauty of His holiness. Every week, we have an opportunity to have direct, intimate communion with Christ in Holy Communion. Every week, we can experience a true foretaste of the Kingdom together through word, sacrament and fellowship. Our weekly gatherings represent a special—and necessary—kind of Christian community. The gathered church has a unique responsibility to proclaim and receive the word of God, to dispense and partake in the sacraments, to lift up their voices in congregational singing, to pray with and for one another, and to engage their spiritual gifts in such a way that the body of Christ is edified. While on this earth, is there anything we should long for more than what we experience together each Sunday?

Instead of allowing ourselves to become distracted by what comes next, let’s be focused and present when we assemble to worship the One who already knows what comes next, and may our desire to rush in to the gathering of God’s people always be greater than our desire to rush out of it.

Rather than look past Sunday morning, let’s wish it never ended.

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