I hope all of you had a great Memorial Day weekend, whether you went somewhere or stayed home — and in either case, took time to remember those who died in service to our country, preserving the freedom and liberty we enjoy today.
The weekend marked the unofficial beginning of summer, unofficially ending on Labor Day. By my count, that makes for 15 weekends, which allows for a lot of opportunities to travel. The summer is a wonderful time for you and/or your family to take some time to get away, whether by taking a vacation or even a “staycation.” These trips to get away from it all, are often a great way to refresh yourself mentally and emotionally.
No less important than refreshing yourself mentally and emotionally is to refresh yourself spiritually. By this I mean, even while you’re gone, it’s crucial to take care of your soul. To this end, if you don’t already do this, I would highly commend to you the practice of going to church even while you’re away from your home congregation, to continue being fed on the Word of God, to once again hear that God has forgiven you your sins for His Son Jesus’ sake. Doing this is truly good, right, and salutary for several reasons.
First, we all know that traveling can be more than a little stressful at times. Occasionally, tempers get a bit short, and we do or say things we shouldn’t have. So going to church, even near where you’re headed, can be a good thing. You get to receive healing and rest spiritually. Jesus Himself says to you, “Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)
Second, God commands that you be in church: “Remember the Sabbath day, by keeping it holy — thou shalt sanctify the holy-day.” Martin Luther teaches us in his Small Catechism: “We should fear and love God that we may not despise preaching and His Word, but hold it sacred, and gladly hear and learn it.” God does not take a vacation from us (though He would be well within His rights to so, but He doesn’t because He is a God of love and mercy) so we cannot —and dare not — take a vacation from Him, lest our souls suffer from malnutrition by not hearing God’s Word. There are no asterisks next to this commandment, no fine print that would grant us an exception from being in His house.
But this does not mean that we have to be in church on Sunday. In the Old Testament, God set aside Saturday as the day of rest, that His people would rest in Him by hearing His Word at the local synagogue. That Saturday requirement was fulfilled in Jesus’ death and resurrection. Ever since then, the New Testament Church (which we Christians are part of today), has for the most part set aside Sunday for her day of worship, to celebrate the weekly anniversary of Jesus’ resurrection, making every Sunday a mini-Easter.
Under inspiration of the Holy Spirit, the blessed apostle St. Paul writes, “One person esteems one day above another; another esteems every day alike. Let each be fully convinced in his own mind. He who observes the day, observes it to the Lord.” (Romans 14:5-6a). Some churches offer services during the week on a given evening.
Here at First Lutheran Church this summer, we are offering an earlier but shorter service on Sunday mornings — 8 a.m. in addition to our regular 10 a.m. service — for those who wish to head out early but still want to come and be fed on Word and Sacrament. For our members who will be gone for an entire Sunday (or more), I’ve offered to find for my members a confessional, liturgical Lutheran congregation near where they will be that Sunday (or even midweek), so that, even away from their home congregation, they can still receive God’s gifts of the forgiveness of sins, eternal life, and the salvation of their souls.
Third, going to church while on vacation sets a wonderful example for your children, showing them the importance of being in church, both to receive spiritual refreshment and to be there as a family. Good practices instilled in your children now often beget good habits later. Saint Paul also writes, “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.” (Ephesians 6:4)
But if you are not able to make it to a church service while on vacation, it is also beneficial to have some time for family devotions, whether you use your Bible, a hymnal, or a devotional booklet. However you go about finding time for you and your family to be gathered together around His Word, it will be time well spent.
I hope you have a good time this summer, wherever you go, as you recharge your batteries. I also hope you take the time for God to care for your souls for this summer and beyond.
Mark Schlamann is pastor of First Lutheran Church in Tooele.