Not even one! Can you believe it? Not a single one! On the last climactic day of the football season, every match in the English Premier League was played on the Lord’s Day – no exceptions. Now – we can understand why all the games kicked off at the same time, in contrast to the average week when starting times are all over the place. Both schemes suit the TV Companies whose financial clout enables them to call most of the shots where televised football is concerned. And nobody could have predicted what an exciting climax to the entire season would be provided by the final day. Everything to play for: who would be champions, who would have European football to look forward to next season, who would escape relegation by the skin of their teeth, who would crash into the humiliation of the ‘Championship’ (known in former days as the Second Division, but what’s in a name?). And to have the top spot decided by two extra-time goals – you couldn’t have made it up. But all on the Lord’s Day.
You don’t have to know, or care, anything about football to see the significance of that. The Lord’s Day, for multitudes in the UK, is simply a day for enjoyment, whether shopping, sporting, cultural or of the couch potato variety. Many who oppose Sunday trading, or at least its excesses, do so because they are concerned that another day of regular business makes it more difficult for workers to enjoy themselves. The idea that the day might have some transcendent spiritual significance is quaintly out of date for most, perhaps dangerously fundamentalist for others. Sure, there are people whose hobby is religion and who want to spend some of their leisure time doing religious things, but that’s of no interest to the majority. As long as Christians keep their religious proclivities to themselves and don’t suggest anyone else should copy them, they can be tolerated (just about).
It’s just more evidence for the marginalisation of Christianity in Britain today. Principles rooted in the Bible, which once were generally accepted even by those with no personal faith, are treated with derision or even hostility. Religious practice and principle may be acceptable in private, but they are to be allowed no place in the public square. The present government’s effort to ditch the traditional legal definition of marriage, one based on Biblical principle, is just another example of the pattern which is clearly emerging.
Often rearguard actions are the only option left to Christians, and from time to time these do have a measure of success, more in terms of slowing down the rot than in reversing the downward trend. They should not on that account be disparaged, and those who spearhead such campaigns deserve out hearty support. It may well be the case, however, that increasingly our calling as Christians will be to witness to the truth and, if necessary, pay the price of faithfulness. We must give willing and joyful obedience to the Lord, and leave the consequences in his hands.
As far as the Lord’s Day is concerned, our calling is set out in Isaiah 58:13,14, with reference to the Sabbath: ‘If you turn back your foot from the Sabbath, from doing your pleasure on my holy day, and call the Sabbath a delight and the holy day of the Lord honourable; if you honour it, not going your own ways, or seeking your own pleasure, or talking idly; then you shall take delight in the Lord, and I will make you ride on the heights of the earth; I will feed you with the heritage of Jacob your father, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken’. Not a sour, reluctant observance of the Lord’s Day, hedged about with negativity, but a joyful use of the day for God-honouring purposes, for worship, for spiritual and bodily refreshment. A day that is a delight to God’s people, whose use of it is a witness to the grace of God that transforms us and gives us life in its fulness, with the prospect of glory to come in an eternal Sabbath rest (Hebrews 4:9). Our attitude to the Lord’s Day should demonstrate – in an attractive way – that we are citizens of a heavenly country.