Every now and then I see someone is not Mormon, or who is no longer Mormon, acting shocked and horrified that Mormons go to church for three hours each Sunday. At the same time, practicing and believing Mormons look forward to those three hours. What makes the difference?
Mormons (a nickname for members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) learn that God is their loving Father in Heaven. They are taught to love Him in return and to want to serve Him because of all He has given them. Their feelings about the Sabbath day are based in that love.
When God created the earth, He made a point of doing so in six days and resting on the seventh. I think it’s pretty obvious He didn’t really need to rest—He doesn’t get tired. He rested to set an example for us. He taught us to follow the example He set and to keep that seventh day, the Sabbath Day, holy. That rule was important enough to be included in the Ten Commandments, and when you think of all the rules God has, to make the top ten means it is a really important one.
Today, many religions have softened that rule up. They have a quick sermon and let people get on with their secular lives. The churches that continue to honor that request from God are mocked—but Mormons don’t worry a great deal about being mocked if they are doing the right thing. This isn’t a commandment Mormons just made up—it’s right there in the Bible, very clearly stated. “Keep the Sabbath Day holy.” Not “keep an hour or two if you have time holy” but “the Sabbath Day.”
8 Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy.
9 Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work:
10 But the seventh day is the sabbath of the Lord thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates:
11 For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it.
Now, we see in the New Testament that Jesus and the hypocritical Pharisees and scribes sometimes differed on what constituted keeping it holy. He allowed people to do good on the Sabbath—healing, getting an ox out of the mire, that sort of thing. Mormons today teach that keeping the Sabbath Day holy means to attend your church meetings—yes, three hours, but given that the whole day is devoted to God, that isn’t very many. It means to try not to work, but of course, there are exceptions. Police, fire, and medical people obviously have to work. Some people have bosses that simply announce a work day. In general, though, Mormons try to find employment that does not require Sabbath work that isn’t necessary Sabbath work, and they don’t do things that might cause others to have to work.
This last part is why Mormons don’t shop, attend sporting events, or go to secular events on Sunday. Those events cause people to have to work. If no one shopped on Sunday, the stores would stop opening on Sundays because it wouldn’t be profitable. Then more people would be free to attend church and to keep the Sabbath Day holy. There are, after all, six other days in which to do all those things.
Mormons believe that God gave us everything we have, including all seven days of each week. It is not a hardship for us to return one day to Him. In fact, it is a privilege and a luxury. It is simply hard to set aside large portions of time to focus on eternal things when we are immersed in the secular world. Having one day we’re supposed to put aside the secular is a blessing, because it makes it easier. Three hours to visit God in His home, untapped hours for scripture study, service, quiet family togetherness, spiritual music, journaling, family history…most Mormons look forward to that day of rest all week long. The next day, they face Monday peaceful and refreshed, renewed and ready to start their week. Unlike many, most Mormons note that Monday is their most productive day.
Few people find it a burden to visit their best friend for three hours. For Mormons, that is what three hours of church is—a visit to their best friend. It is a privilege, not a chore, to one who loves God and Jesus Christ.