Retail giant Amazon garnered big headlines this month by partnering with the United States Postal Service to offer Sunday delivery. Some might ask why this is even a story. After all, it’s not news for retailers or restaurants to be open on Sunday. And the USPS actually did deliver on Sunday until 1912.
Perhaps this story has made waves because it represents the further symbolic colonization of our culture by a rabid consumerism, the mindset driving what Derek Thompson calls our “on-demand world.” This story does not represent a tipping point (we’re long past that), but it may jar us into recognizing the way our culture overtly rejects a Sabbath way of life.
Because Christians live in and often participate fully in this on-demand culture, we should ask how practices like Amazon’s Sunday delivery shape our other activities on Sunday - namely, the activities of the gathered church. If I can’t wait an extra day for that item I ordered, am I likely to have patience with an unruly teenager in my youth group? If I have to have what I want when I want it, am I likely to stick around for the long, grinding work of building community with fellow Christians? Amazon’s Sunday delivery practices aren’t the root of the problem here, but they do highlight the way our consumerist culture can shape our approach to participation in the body of Christ.
Furthermore, this consumerism comes at a cost. Just as modern tourists marvel at the wonders of ancient Egypt and ignore the slaves who built them, so we marvel at the ease and convenience of Amazon’s all-powerful delivery system while ignoring questionable labor conditions. When God called His people to observe a day of rest in the Old Testament, it was not just for some. Everyone, including servants and animals, rested on that day.
Some are so quick to avoid legalism that they fail to recognize the way that Sabbath practices - worship, rest and joy - are meant for our good and flourishing.
So should Christians still mark time in a way that’s different from the rest of the culture? Some are so quick to avoid legalism that they fail to recognize the way that Sabbath practices - worship, rest and joy - are meant for our good and flourishing. Even science points out that a key facet of our 24/7 consumerism - working third shift - is probably a carcinogen. For Christians, a day of rest from work and commerce points to the underlying truth of Sabbath: our life and well-being does not ultimately depend on us but on God.
In our culture, I wouldn’t expect non-Christians to cease normal activity on the Lord’s Day. But we might reconsider whether our refraining from normal work and commerce for a day could be a witness. Just as setting apart a tithe or first fruits represents God’s ownership of all we have, so setting apart one day as different can help us remember that all our time is God’s and should be used accordingly.
Amazon’s move should make Christians ask how our patterns of work, rest and worship make us content - a people who have faith and trust in God’s provision. In this light, Sabbath is not about one day but about a way of life, a point summarized well by Wendell Berry:
Harvest will fill the barn; for that
the hand must ache, the face must sweat.
And yet no leaf or grain is filled
By work of ours; the field is tilled
And left to grace. That we may reap,
Great work is done while we’re asleep.
When we work well, a Sabbath mood
Rests on our day and calls it good.