“I went with them to the house of God with the voice of joy and praise with a multitude, that kept holyday.”
(Psalm 42 verse 4 King James Version)
As we move into the height of the summer months there will be a number of people looking forward to a welcome holiday break. If you are going away may I take the opportunity to wish you a very enjoyable and relaxing time. Of course, the travel agents do a roaring trade at this time of year and the viewing figures for holiday programmes run into several millions every week. You do hear, however, of some holiday experiences which are memorable for all the wrong reasons. I once heard a revealing comment from a couple who went abroad and who said to a friend on their return home, “We stayed in a hotel that overlooked the sea. Sadly, it also overlooked hygiene, good service and edible food!”
Moving on to the real point I want to make, which is simply to say that there was once a time when “holiday” and “holy day” were one and the same thing. One of the things Debbie and I enjoy doing on holiday is to visit other places of worship on a Sunday, places which are not necessarily Methodist. It is good to encounter different denominational styles and practices and to meet others who form the rich tapestry of God’s worshipping people. It was interesting listening to some of the memorable stories of people who travelled on the recent day trip to Beamish. As we sat outside the Methodist chapel they recalled the significance of a Sunday for them, of how they dressed in their Sunday best, then walked to the church in order to regularly attend up to three services on a Sunday.
Times have changed. Sundays have changed, and many people would not particularly want to return to the strict religious observances of those earlier generations. Perhaps it put some people off religion, but it could equally be argued that it’s an indication of how seriously people took their faith and commitment. And that is really what it comes down to in the end, whether we are talking about the past or the present. It’s not so much about numbers, but the impact our faith has on us and how far it influences and shapes our daily living. John Wesley described the impact of the Christian religion in this way, “This religion we long to see established in the world, a religion of love and joy and peace; having its seat in the heart, in the inmost soul, but ever showing itself by its fruits; continually springing forth, in every kind of beneficence, spreading virtue and happiness all around it.” This is the heart of Christianity as he saw it, but it also points to the constant need for renewal and reformation, a faith that is re-presented in new forms as each generation comes along.