Hymn text by W. W. Phelps, 1792-1872. View the full text of this hymn.

Gently raise the sacred strain,
For the Sabbath’s come again
That man may rest,
And return his thanks to God
For his blessings to the blest.

Why do we worship?

Why do we take a day off each week and spend it in church, singing hymns, listening to sermons, engaging in prayer, and doing any of a number of things that take the place of something much more fun? We could be watching football with friends, taking a drive through the country, or going to the movies. Surely anything would beat sitting through church, right? Worse yet, once church is over, we’re not supposed to come home, peel off our Sunday clothes, and run out and catch up with all of those fun things we set aside for a few hours. We’re supposed to stay home and spend the day with family. Ugh, right? Sundays are so restrictive!

Well, while it may feel that way sometimes, we might do well to remember that “the sabbath was made for man, and not man for the sabbath.” Sundays aren’t designed to punish us, or to make us feel constrained or miserable. The Sabbath is designed for us, and specifically “that [we] may rest.” It’s a day for us to rest from our labor, but also from the hustle and bustle of our lives. We spend the day in quiet contemplation, thinking about the ways we have been blessed and returning our thanks unto Him who gave us those blessings. That’s not to say, of course, that we are to sit at home all day ticking off blessings until it’s time to go to bed. We can find plenty of good ways to fill our time and still keep the Sabbath a holy day. But we are to rest, not only as a way of rejuvenating ourselves for the coming week, but also as a way of taking time out of our lives to remember the Lord. That might mean sacrificing things that others enjoy on Sundays, whether that’s playing golf with friends, going to brunch at a nice restaurant, or anything else.

I’m struck by the fact that we raise the sacred strain “gently.” So much of what we do in the gospel is with kindness and softness. There’s no need to declare our Sabbath activities from the rooftops. We go about our days quietly, gently, and with meekness. We “partake the sacrament in remembrance of our Lord.” We do our best to keep Sunday a “holy day, devoid of strife.” And perhaps most importantly, we make our day emblematic of our lives by making it an offering to the Lord. He asks for one day out of seven to be His, and we offer it to Him willingly. So too do we offer our lives to Him, and on the Sabbath we rededicate ourselves to that offering by partaking of the sacrament. “We bring our gifts around of broken hearts as a willing sacrifice,” we sing in the third verse, “showing what his grace imparts.” We submit our hearts and our wills to Him, and when we meet on Sundays, we have the chance to see that sacrifice in others, and we can see the blessings that dedication to the Savior brings. That inspires us to redouble our efforts in His service, knowing what we can become as we give ourselves to Him.

We learn of Him on the Sabbath, and we learn how to become more like Him. By partaking of the sacrament–the only ordinance we take part in more than once in our lifetime–we remember the magnitude of the sacrifice He made for us, and we remember that we have taken upon us His name, and that through that name and sacrifice, we can be made clean again. We worship the Lord because He made it possible for us to return to that purified state, and we dedicate our Sundays each week to give ourselves the chance to contemplate that fact. It’s something that can take more than a couple of hours each week, and it’s why worship isn’t something that is restricted to a meetinghouse, but is constantly before us.

Holy, holy is the Lord.
Precious, precious is his word:
Repent and live,
Repent and live;
Tho your sins be crimson red,
Oh, repent, and he’ll forgive.

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