Everyone goes to church.
Irrespective of what our different religious inclinations are, all of us dress up for Sunday morning worship.
A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to walk around the town of Amesbury, Massachusetts, the neighbourhood of All Saints Anglican Cathedral, the church I attend.
While at it, I was struck by the number of people who were out and about on the streets at eleven in the morning. On my left, a local bar was packed that you could not see the bartender behind the counter. On my right, a local boutique was booming with business. Before me, the wooden benches in the town square were occupied by people who seemed to be wearing off the past week’s fatigue.
Sunday morning is an opportunity to walk to the newsstand to grab the Sunday paper. It is also a time to catch up on the texts and all those Facebook notifications that kept the phone buzzing since Monday morning, the week past—provided you have the monastic mojo to hold them off for a full week.
As I stood on a street corner with my eyes transfixed on the people’s Sunday morning life, I could notice that they are all doing something. Some were heading to church, others to party with friends, others walking their dogs, name it.
The Apostle Paul was onto something when he wrote to the Romans that our hearts are a stone tablet on which the law is permanently engraved that it cannot be erased, not even with heart surgery (see Romans 2:15). Well, not in those words but close. He also added that however much we try to deny this legal inscription on our hearts, the truth is right before us looking us in the face as we hide in plain sight.
What Paul is actually saying is that the moral demands of the law awaken consciousness in everyone so that the breach of that moral code triggers an alarm in all of us. It is the painful feeling of trying to erase what is permanently inscribed.
Think of a parent who gets home, as soon as they shut the door behind them, they notice that their small child is acting weird. Trying—for the first time—to do homework without the daily dose of coercion. Automatically, the parent will know that something is amiss. Clearly, the kid is hiding something. His conscience is haunting him. This is so because that conscience is awake to the difference between ought and oughtn’t.
When Paul wrote that: “They show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts sometimes accusing them and at other times even defending them”, the law that he was talking out is God’s law—or what we have come to call the 10 commandments or the moral law.
Every one of those 10 commandments is chalked on the heart of every person that they are aware of their little peccadilloes when they commit them. There is also a tendency in the hearts of all people to try to live up to those commandments.
It is in our DNA.
Every human being on earth has something in which they invest their value and worth. All of us give ourselves to something that we hope to be defined by. There are projects we devote ourselves to the point of saying that “I want to be known for championing such and such a cause or being such a kind of person.” In other words, there is something in all of us that we find weightier or worthy that the other stuff in our lives.
In religious terms, the attention we give to the projects that devote ourselves to is called worth-ship. Sorry, I meant worship. You can only worship what matters to you. That is why we run after young hot girls/boys, money, fame, good grades, perfect kids, nice cars, etc. those things are our gods—we bow down before them hoping that they would deliver us.
Why is this so? Because the first commandment relating to worship is written on the hearts that beat inside our chests.
The fall of man did not erase this inscription. Instead, it distorted the way he reads it. The motivation is there, but the execution is skewed. The desire to worship something or someone is present but always directed to a wrong object.
You see, transgression is never so much the failure to do what the moral law of God requires. No one ever fails to do. Instead, it is an act of the right motive flowing in the wrong direction.
In the fourth commandment, we are instructed to rest on the seventh day.
For most of us, Sabbath is that day of the week called Sunday—the day we go for morning worship. For the rest of the day, no work is done. For some, this is a conscious decision while for others, it’s the opposite. Yet we all rest.
This is not an accident. Everyone—consciously or otherwise—has a way in which they would consider their week incomplete if it lacked that day when they broke from the weekly routine. Regardless of what is done, that day is ‘holy’ in a sense that no bosses or demands from the workplace are allowed to corrupt it.
What I am trying to say is that all people keep the Sabbath. They rest on the seventh day. It is not surprising that the days we don’t go to work are called ‘holidays.’ As in ‘holy days.’
The fourth commandment, like the other nine, is also written on our hearts.
All the people who flock bars, parks, shopping malls, and those that walk their dogs are practicing the ritual of rest because they are all consciously aware that it is ‘good’ to do.
Yet, when the fall of man was distorting the first commandment, the fourth did not survive.
God’s will is that we all find rest in him alone. It is what Jesus lays out in Matthew 11:28.
The sabbath is not something we do once a week. Instead, it is something we do every day of the week but then have it showcased, sometimes publically, on Sunday, or any day of the week we choose to rest. People who go to church on Sunday morning don’t trust God only on Sunday morning, they do it every day of the week.
Likewise, a millennial who worships video games does not do it only when they have a joystick in their hands. It happens every day as they imagine and reimagine the thrills of completing a difficult level on their latest game, or when they refresh polygon.com in hopes that they will be the first to chance on the latest piece of Nintendo gossip.
The things to which we give ourselves to define us are the same things we seek to rest in. It is on those altars that we spend our Sabbaths. What captivates you is the very thing you are resting in, hoping that in that thing, or person, your life will one day have meaning and purpose.
That rest—or the thing that looks like it actually is work. The difference between resting in Jesus and resting in some other stuff is that real, genuine rest is only found in the former.
When we give ourselves to things smaller than Jesus, we will always be exhausted. Jesus himself said that the Devil is the father of lies. He tricks us into thinking that we will find rest in a video game, sex, money, and other petty things that have never saved a single soul.
Instead of resting, we spend our lives on a treadmill of restlessness hoping that one day our misery will come to an end. Yet, all we do is work and never rest. Because we serve gods who have ears but cannot hear and eyes but cannot see.
The idols of the nations are silver and gold,
made by human hands.
They have mouths, but cannot speak,
eyes, but cannot see.
They have ears, but cannot hear,
nor is there breath in their mouths.
Those who make them will be like them,
and so will all who trust in them. (Psalm 135:15-18)
Those who bow down to false and powerless gods work for them. What looks like rest is actually hard work—the hard work deifying something that we have no business deifying.
There is only one resting place—Jesus Christ’s work for us. That is the only acceptable religious pitstop.
Where do you go to church? Many people, especially the non-religious elite, would say that they don’t go to church. Yet, they do the very thing which takes their counterparts to church: rest. In filling our Sunday mornings with to-do list-worthy things, we declare a rest, but not according to the pattern God has ordained.
We decide what to worship, where, and when. We also install ourselves as high priests to mediate the covenant we have cut with our idols.
The idea of rest is not to sidestep work. No. Rather, it is the completion of a long day’s work. Jesus is seated at the right hand of his Father because he has finished his work. He even said, “It is finished” (John 19:30). Real rest is found in him who has completed his work.
It is also why we go to church—to an empty cross and an empty tomb—and finally to a feast-ready table as our gaze is transfixed on the right hand of the Father’s divine seat where the Son is resting so that there, we will learn to also rest well.