Elder Perry, in the first talk of the SM session (after Pres. Monson’s welcome), observed: there is ‘no better way for us to begin or continue to be an example of the believers than in our observance of the Sabbath day’. Elder Perry then counselled, based on D&C 59:9-10, that there are three things the Lord expects from me on this day: ‘first, to keep ourselves unspotted from the world; second, to go to the house of prayer and offer up our sacraments; and third, to rest from our labors’. Using E. Perry’s homiletic and, in my view, intentional mis-reading of this passage, I want to offer my own meditation on his invitation to ‘avoid… worldly distractions of businesses and recreational facilities on the Sabbath day’ .
This sermon was homiletic not merely because it was pastoral but also because of this mis-reading; a mis-reading that helped me to focus upon an important part of my liturgical praxis. Elder Perry suggested that D&C 59:9-10 exhorts us to ‘keep thyself unspotted from the world’ on the Sabbath day. Rather, being unspotted is the causal response to going to ‘the house of prayer’ and offering up ‘thy sacraments upon my holy day’. I do not think it was wrong of Elder Perry to use this type of reading: firstly it is a common hermeneutic in the LDS tradition and secondly his thoughts have assisted further consideration. I see the Sabbath a little differently because of his talk.
Walter Brueggemann offers three perspectives on the meaning of the ‘act of Sabbath’ that can be useful applied to Elder Perry’s sermon . The Sabbath is certainly a day of rest, but this ‘rest’ is a divine act, it is a sacrament (cf. Ex 20:11). By following the creative periods; it invites reflection upon the creative or life-giving efforts of our lives. Among some Jewish groups, the night of the Sabbath was considered to be an especial time for marital relations in order to commemorate and rejoice in the creation and the joining of man and woman . Second, the Sabbath is ‘an act of remembering the liberation that permitted new life’ (cf. Deut 5:15). The ‘act of Sabbath’ ritually holds together the process of creation and deliverance; two themes that become type-scenes in our scriptures. The sacrament of the Lord’s supper commemorates the spiritual deliverance that the Lord offers to this people and the rest he provides for them in this new life. This is all very familiar to Latter-day Saints, though I believe there is more that can be done with these ideas.
Drawing upon Amos, Brueggemann argues that ‘the Sabbath is a day when commercial activity stops, when the routines of the exploited are brought to a halt’ (cf. Amos 8:4-6). Through this paradigm the sacrament of the Lord’s supper memorialises the day when all shall have bread and water to drink. It anticipates the end of economic inequality. What then of Elder Perry’s counsel to avoid entertainment and ‘toys’ ? Can I watch the television without reflecting upon those who have not the time or the luxury to watch the ‘X-factor’ or ‘Britain’s Got Talent’? Can I sit upon my comfortable couch in my centrally heated flat waiting for lunch to settle before eating dessert without being afflicted with my wealth in a world full of starving people? These activities are not inherently unworthy of the Sabbath rather they are signs of my relative wealth; and they therefore symbolise my collusion in economic exploitation (cf. Jim F.). God does not want me to cover my sins with comfort, or to distract my contrition with fun, on this Holy day.
That the Sabbath was made for mankind is true; but I am not convinced that this means it is a time for selfishness. It is true that some activities may be prohibited on the Sabbath; but I do not accept the effort to rigidly proscribe what is acceptable. The Sabbath should be a day of conflicting emotions; and it seems somehow appropriate that, in the midst of my wealth, I also long for a day when poverty will end. At the very least, God wants me to remember that the act of Sabbath ritually recalls creation, deliverance and equality.
- Mis-reading, in this context, does not imply a lack of intellect on Elder Perry’s part nor that he was deceptive. Rather, mis-reading is the consequence of reading texts into our time and place. Mis-reading highlights the relationships between texts and the influence of a text on an author/speaker (cf. Bloom’s ‘Map of Misreading’).
- I am not claiming that this approach to the Sabbath is required nor do I believe that this is what Elder Perry would believe. As such this will be written in the first-person, except when I am quoting.
- Walter Brueggemann, Finally comes the poet, Minneapolis: Fortress press, pp. 90-99. I used a different section of this book 6 months ago in a previous post based upon a GC talk.
- Louis Jacobs, The body in Jewish worship in Religion and the Body, p. 80.
- This has been removed from the official transcript.