Written by Veena Kuruvilla, Singapore
2020 is proving to be the year of pause and reset. While the first half had most of the world limping under lockdown, the second phase has seen us emerge from it embracing the “new normal” of social distancing, masks, and hand sanitizers. For the body of Christ, this list also includes virtual church services.
Prior to this, celebrating the Lord’s day came easy to our family. We’d begin worship on the way to church, with my daughter and I taking turns to pick songs of praise to sing out loud in the car. The excitement continued as we gathered with our family in Christ to lift high the name of God and to receive biblical truth drenched in Christ’s love. At lunchtime after, out of the fullness of our hearts, thanksgiving would flow through our conversation and flavor the hours that followed.
Over the years, there have been moments that challenged the sanctity of this day; tantrums, misplaced priorities, and, at times, misplaced things. But God in His mercy has used them all to punctuate our journey with Him as a family. Not only have we realized the value of preparation through prayer, we have also been learning to recognize that those irritations don’t deserve even a moment’s indulgence.
This is why, I believe, a few weeks into virtual worship, God highlighted Ezekiel 20:20 during my quiet time: “Keep my Sabbaths holy, that they may be a sign between us. Then you will know that I am the LORD your God.” This compelled me to take stock of our Sundays at home. Were our hearts and its desires centred on Christ and the communion we have in and through Him?
As we examined our hearts, we realized that instead of celebrating this sacred day together as a family, we had spun cocoons of personal choice and took shelter in them separately. Once we had worshipped virtually, we individually pursued books, movies, and screens of any and every size. But for God speaking through His word when He did, we would have lost what He was teaching our family through Sabbath during these strange times.
And as we fought to ensure our Sunday is set apart, God in His faithfulness reminded us of three privileges we have as His chosen people.
1. Recognize the Call to Surrender Our Uncertainties
It’s not just our screens that we have had to lay down at the foot of the cross. We had allowed the uncertainty coiling across our calendar to squelch our joy. With plans and personal interactions on indefinite pause, and with unanswered prayers and problems all around, we often allowed our words to drift into doubt, dishonoring the surety that is Jesus. With the same lips that sang praise, we uttered disdain at our circumstances.
In Matthew 12:8, Jesus says, “For the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.”
Our relationship with our Savior and the day we have in Him has been reshaped as we anchor ourselves in this truth. Work or its absence, this world and its wisdom, are not to dictate Sunday’s course. From one week to another, we cannot help but bow down before the One who is undeniably gracious, slow to anger and abounding in love (Jonah 4:2). This is why we are choosing to mute our questions and amplify our praise, especially on Sundays. As we seek to honor Him wholeheartedly, God has helped us to consider, confess, and convert our despair into confidence. This is why we can acknowledge aloud the gift of another Sabbath together as a family to worship with true wonder.
2. Respond to the Call to Savor His Goodness
Since then, enjoying a day of rest in God has been evolving in our home. After worship, we roll out our picnic blanket indoors beside the window with the prettiest view, and take turns recalling what we are thankful for in the past week. We then pray and tuck into takeaway. I am learning to ignore the mess on the mat and leaning in to focus on how our seven-year-old recognizes God’s hand in our lives.
In Isaiah 58:13-14, when speaking to the Israelites about the kind of fasting that pleases Him, God’s words are precise:
If you keep your feet from breaking the Sabbath and from doing as you please on my holy day, if you call the Sabbath a delight and the Lord’s holy day honorable, and if you honor it by not going your own way and not doing as you please or speaking idle words, then you will find joy in the LORD. . .
Ultimately, our celebration of the Sabbath should be about the One who ordained it. Simple as it sounds, we are prone to making it about church and her programs, or our own list of ideas. Instead, we are learning to ask again and again if we are truly after our Father’s pleasure and honor in the way we celebrate the Sabbath.
While practically everything has changed all around us, God has not. He is Holy. He is sovereign. He is love. And His grace is still at work. In a world infested with distractions, our Father is worthy of our absolute attention, obedience, and adoration.
3. Relish in the Call to Share Hope
Our life as expatriates had, until now, restricted our privilege to worship together with our extended family to a handful of times a year, if at all. However, with church going virtual, God has paved the path for a more intentional coming together of His children. We are now able to worship across oceans and time zones despite the sting of separation. This in turn has enabled conversations fueled by hope—ones that take the focus off COVID-19 and put the spotlight on Christ. How incredible is our God who uses every shard of our brokenness, even our circumstances, to piece together wondrous works!
I am reminded of David’s words in Psalm 34:8-9, “Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the one who takes refuge in Him. Fear the Lord, you His holy people, for those who fear Him lack nothing.” Knowing this truth intimately kills the restlessness that breeds sins on Sabbath and everyday, and grows contentment within us through the challenges we face. The light of His presence hasn’t dimmed through the darkness of disease. His word is still at work in our lives, cleaning and binding up our wounds.
As we live mindful of the multitude of our Father’s mercies, praise and hope spills over into every conversation. Our daughter wakes up with a familiar enthusiasm these Sundays and looks forward to our afternoons spent in learning a new worship song. Indeed, it is a joy to be invited to give ourselves to the Repairer of the broken walls (Isaiah 58:12), and to find rest and restoration in Him.