Back in the late Jurassic when I was an undergrad at BYU, I remember reading an article about a religion professor who put on a Seder meal for some of his students. He gave specifically LDS interpretations of much of the symbolism, and at the time I recall thinking, “Oh, how cool, I wish I could have been there.” Not long after that, however, a letter to the editor appeared in the Daily Universe from a young Jewish woman who was upset that this symbolism was being given an interpretation foreign to that of her own religious tradition. I had to admit I simply hadn’t thought of it from that perspective, and I could understand why she was upset. This was long before I had heard of the concept of cultural appropriation in religion, but looking back on it I can see that was an example of this phenomenon.
So when Elder Cook began to talk about a Shabbat experience he recently had, I began to worry that he might try to appropriate the experience and “Mormonize” it somehow. To my relief and appreciation, however, he did not do that; he simply recounted the experience and appreciated it for what it was and what it can teach us. Here is the description he gave:
My wife and I, and two of my colleagues and their wives, recently participated in a Jewish Shabbat at the invitation of a dear friend, Robert Abrams and his wife Diane, in their New York home. It commenced at the beginning of the Jewish Sabbath on a Friday evening. The focus was honoring God as the creator. It began by blessing the family and a Sabbath hymn. We joined in the ceremonial washing of hands, the blessing of the bread, the prayers, the kosher meal, the recitation of scripture, and singing Sabbath songs in a celebratory mood. We listened to the Hebrew words, following along with English translations. The most poignant scriptures read from the Old Testament, which are also dear to us, were from Isaiah, declaring the Sabbath a delight, and from Ezekiel, that the Sabbath “…shall be a sign between me and you, that ye may know that I am the Lord your God.” The overwhelming impression from this wonderful evening was of family love, devotion and accountability to God. As I thought about this event I reflected on the extreme persecution that the Jews have experienced over centuries. Clearly honoring the Sabbath has been “a perpetual covenant” preserving and blessing the Jewish people in fulfillment of scripture. It has also contributed to the extraordinary family life and happiness that is evident in the lives of many Jewish people.
“Whew, potential crisis averted,” I thought.
There were several other things he did with this topic that I also appreciated. For instance, he began this section of the talk with the following observation: “The early Christian church changed observance of the Sabbath from Saturday to Sunday to commemorate the Lord’s resurrection.” I’ve told the story before of the elderly sister from the ward I grew up in who lost her faith and left the church over this issue. She worked with a seventh-day sabbatarian who told her the Sabbath originally was on Saturday, and she simply didn’t believe it; “Surely my church would have told me if that were the case.” So she asked around at church, and everyone (not knowing any better) assured her that the Sabbath had always been on Sunday. This was long ago pre-Google, but she went to the library and it wasn’t too hard to figure out that position was a crock, and so she promptly lost her faith and left the Church. The issue wasn’t which day to observe the Sabbath on; it was rather that she felt lied to over the matter. There is no reason in the world we shouldn’t just simply be forthright about it, as Elder Cook models in the statement I quote above.
When Elder Cook then comments on our Sabbath observances, he does not get mired in legalisms, but rather quotes the injunction of President Russell M. Nelson to the Saints to “make the Sabbath a delight” (who in turn was quoting Isaiah 58:13-14). I appreciated this positive spin on Sabbath, in contrast with what so often is a much more negative framing.
The Church as a whole has been on a kick lately to improve our Sabbath observance. I highly recommend this section of Elder Cook’s talk as a worthwhile exposition to that end.