Bishop of Exeter’s Letter – August

Summer is a’coming in!

August used to be the main time when people took holidays, and for those with school age children it still is. Others now take holidays and short breaks at any time of the year. One thing is certain: Devon will be full of holiday-makers this August, enjoying our beautiful county, its beaches and countryside. As the old English folk song has it: ‘Sumer is icumen in!’

The word ‘holiday’ is, of course, a contraction of ‘holy day’. In fact many of our public holidays derive from the celebrations of the Christian year. The idea of a special day of rest comes from the Jewish practice of the Sabbath which Christians turned into Sunday, a special weekly celebration of the resurrection of Christ.

Festivals are a feature of all religions, but there continues to be something unique about the Jewish observance of the Sabbath with its strict emphasis upon rest from work and human effort. The Sabbath is designed to be a day of peace and quiet before God, not a day of religious striving to find God. If you think about it, it is quite a revolutionary idea.

Over the last twenty years or so we have seen the effects of the deregulation of Sunday and the effective abandonment of trading restrictions. For many in Britain today this feels like a gain, but in the process Sunday has disappeared into the all-too-human-centred greyness of the rest of the week. It isn’t only religiously inclined people who have lost out, society as a whole has lost out and especially family life. As a generation I sometimes think we are too busy.

Whether or not we are going away this August, I hope the holiday atmosphere will help us all to relax, to stand back from the hurly-burly of things and re-focus our priorities. After all, God began it all with the original Sabbath rest on the seventh day of creation when He finished the work of creation and deemed it to be ‘very good’. May our holidays and our holy days train our eyes to see the goodness of God in the world and rejoice in his grace.

+Robert Exon

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