From the Large Catechism of Dr. Martin Luther, comments on the Third Commandment, beginning at paragraph 87, from the online edition of the Book of Concord:
Accordingly, when asked, What is meant by the commandment: Thou shalt sanctify
the holy day? answer: To sanctify the holy day is the same as to keep it holy.
But what is meant by keeping it holy? Nothing else than to be occupied in holy
words, works, and life. For the day needs no sanctification for itself; for in
itself it has been created holy [from the beginning of the creation it was
sanctified by its Creator]. But God desires it to be holy to you. Therefore it
becomes holy or unholy on your account, according as you are occupied on the
same with things that are holy or unholy.
How, then, does such sanctification take place? Not in this manner, that [with
folded hands] we sit behind the stove and do no rough [external] work, or deck
ourselves with a wreath and put on our best clothes, but (as has been said)
that we occupy ourselves with God's Word, and exercise ourselves therein.
And, indeed we Christians ought always to keep such a holy day, and be occupied
with nothing but holy things, i.e., daily be engaged upon God's Word, and carry
it in our hearts and upon our lips. But (as has been said) since we do not at
all times have leisure, we must devote several hours a week for the sake of the
young, or at least a day for the sake of the entire multitude, to being
concerned about this alone, and especially urge the Ten Commandments, the
Creed, and the Lord's Prayer, and thus direct our whole life and being
according to God's Word. 90] At
whatever time, then, this is being observed and practised, there a true holy
day is being kept; otherwise it shall not be called a Christians' holy day.
For, indeed, non-Christians can also cease from work and be idle, just as the
entire swarm of our ecclesiastics, who stand daily in the churches, singing,
and ringing bells but keeping no holy day holy, because they neither preach nor
practise God's Word, but teach and live contrary to it.
the Word of God is the sanctuary above all sanctuaries, yea, the only one which
we Christians know and have. For though we had the bones of all the saints or
all holy and consecrated garments upon a heap, still that would help us
nothing; for all that is a dead thing which can sanctify nobody. But God's Word
is the treasure which sanctifies everything, and by which even all the saints
themselves were sanctified. At whatever hour, then, God's Word is taught,
preached, heard, read or meditated upon, there the person, day, and work are
sanctified thereby, not because of the external work, but because of the Word,
which makes saints of us all. 92]
Therefore I constantly say that all our life and work must be ordered according
to God's Word, if it is to be God-pleasing or holy. Where this is done, this
commandment is in force and being fulfilled.
the contrary, any observance or work that is practised without God's Word is
unholy before God, no matter how brilliantly it may shine, even though it be
covered with relics, such as the fictitious spiritual orders, which know
nothing of God's Word and seek holiness in their own works.
Note, therefore, that the force and power of this commandment lies not in the
resting, but in the sanctifying, so that to this day belongs a special holy
exercise. For other works and occupations are not properly called holy
exercises, unless the man himself be first holy. But here a work is to be done
by which man is himself made holy, which is done (as we have heard) alone
through God's Word. For this, then, fixed places, times, persons, and the
entire external order of worship have been created and appointed, so that it
may be publicly in operation.
Since, therefore, so much depends upon God's Word that without it no holy day
can be sanctified, we must know that God insists upon a strict observance of
this commandment, and will punish all who despise His Word and are not willing
to hear and learn it, especially at the time appointed for the purpose.
Therefore not only those sin against this commandment who grossly misuse and
desecrate the holy day, as those who on account of their greed or frivolity
neglect to hear God's Word or lie in taverns and are dead drunk like swine; but
also that other crowd, who listen to God's Word as to any other trifle, and
only from custom come to preaching, and go away again, and at the end of the
year know as little of it as at the beginning. 97] For
hitherto the opinion prevailed that you had properly hallowed Sunday when you
had heard a mass or the Gospel read; but no one cared for God's Word, as also
no one taught it. Now, while we have God's Word, we nevertheless do not correct
the abuse; we suffer ourselves to be preached to and admonished, but we listen
without seriousness and care.
Know, therefore, that you must be concerned not only about hearing, but also
about learning and retaining it in memory, and do not think that it is optional
with you or of no great importance, but that it is God's commandment, who will
require of you how you have heard, learned, and honored His Word.
Likewise those fastidious spirits are to be reproved who, when they have heard
a sermon or two, find it tedious and dull, thinking that they know all that
well enough, and need no more instruction. For just that is the sin which has
been hitherto reckoned among mortal sins, and is called torpor or satiety, a
malignant, dangerous plague with which the devil bewitches and deceives the
hearts of many, that he may surprise us and secretly withdraw God's Word from
For let me tell you this, even though you know it perfectly and be already
master in all things, still you are daily in the dominion of the devil, who
ceases neither day nor night to steal unawares upon you, to kindle in your
heart unbelief and wicked thoughts against the foregoing and all the
commandments. Therefore you must always have God's Word in your heart, upon
your lips, and in your ears. But where the heart is idle, and the Word does not
sound, he breaks in and has done the damage before we are aware. 101]
On the other hand, such is the efficacy of the Word, whenever it is seriously
contemplated, heard, and used, that it is bound never to be without fruit, but
always awakens new understanding, pleasure, and devoutness, and produces a pure
heart and pure thoughts. For these words are not inoperative or dead, but
creative, living words. 102]
And even though no other interest or necessity impel us, yet this ought to urge
every one thereunto, because thereby the devil is put to Right and driven away,
and, besides, this commandment is fulfilled, and [this exercise in the Word] is
more pleasing to God than any work of hypocrisy, however brilliant.
Now, dear Readers, considering what Father Martin says here about the importance of focusing the worship service on Christ, His holy Word, and His Sacraments, and the fact that many erroneously labeled "contemporary" church services have so little Scripture in them - perhaps one reading at most, and that often quite short - and the Sacrament seldom to be seen, what might be said about such modern erstwhile worship gatherings? Comments anyone?