In defence of Sunday restrictions

Photo by Jack Sparrow on

Tom Harwood is a journalist and commentator with GB News and he’s not happy about the UK’s remaining restrictions on Sunday Trading as this tweet shows.

Now, I can’t help but make too general comments here.  First, that in my experience, if you are shopping at the big superstores then you tend to be doing a planned, large shop for the week.  People doing a last minute shop because they forgot to get something for dinner are in a different category.  Secondly, he seems to be asking for government intervention to help him out because of his inability to plan properly.  That’s  a bit ironic since Tom operates on the right of politics and last I checked, right wing politics worked on the view that Governments weren’t there to mitigate for our individual failings. 

However, I want to write primarily here as a Christian and in defence of Sunday trading restrictions. It’s worth observing that we have come a long way from my childhood when nearly every shop was shut all day and there were few sports and recreation events happening.  The Christian culture has changed significantly too with many reacting strongly to what was perceived as a legalistic Sabbatarianism.  I’m not insisting that we go back to those things.  I think there was some legalism and a bit of corrective is a good thing. I also recognise that we live in a secular society and have to function as such. However, I want to argue here that Christians still have good reason to argue in defence of a weekly sabbath, recognised by wider society.

At the end of Mark 3, there’s an intriguing incident. Jesus is walking with his disciples through a field and they are picking some of the grain and eating it.  The teachers of the law are watching and they complain.  This, they argue, amounts to a break of the Sabbath ban on work.  Jesus’ response is two-fold.  First he argues that the Sabbath was made for humans, not the other way round. Second, he insists that he is lord over the Sabbath.

Taking them in reverse, because Jesus is Lord of the sabbath, including the Christian sabbath on Sunday, we should take seriously how we spend the day.  Our focus should be on rest and enjoyment of God in worship.  I also believe that Jesus’ Lordship has wider implications for society around us and so, we should be making the case for everyone to benefit from this day and as far as possible to use it for its right purposes.  We may not expect to win the argument or get laws passed, no more than we might expect to win the debate on abortion, no more than Wilberforce thought he was realistically likely of winning for many years as he kept making the argument against the slave trade.

Secondly, if the Sabbath is made for us and not vice-versa then this gives another reason to make the case.  You see, I genuinely believe that people benefit from there being a day when things run a bit slower, when there is less traffic on the streets and when the shops aren’t running 24/7/. It’s important because it means that people no that there’s clear recognition in the law that we need rest.  It helps to protect workers rights, including ensuring the principle that those who have to work at inconvenient times are rewarded for it. 

But it’s more than just protecting the right to a day off which can be at any time.  Apart from the fact that you want to maximise the likelihood of families having the day together, you also want to think about the wider impact on society and communities.  It’s a good thing when a whole community learns to pause together. In fact the timing of community events, not just churches but festivals, sport etc rely on the assumption that some days are not general work and school days.

Furthermore, it is hard to take proper rest when the world around you is operating at full throttle. Ask the person working nights about what it’s like trying to sleep during the day time -and not just because of the light outside.  Ask the shift worker, or even the pastor who takes a Monday or a Tuesday off. I believe that its good for a society when it learns rhythms of life together, when things aren’t constantly running at the same pace.  A nation needs to learn to rest.

So, in my opinion, it is a good thing that some restrictions remain and that Sunday continues to be a little different to other days.  Long may that continue.

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