Stopping and Starting
In the Old Testament it is recorded that God gave to his people the seventh day as a Sabbath day. Each Friday at sundown, after the six days of labor were over, the people of Israel celebrated Sabbath. It was a day to recuperate from the work of the past week.
Beginning with the New Testament, however, a change begins to be instituted. The Church chose to celebrate the Lord’s Day rather than the Sabbath Day, and do it on the first day, rather than the last day of the week, and to begin the day at dawn instead of at sunset. Interesting changes!
The initial reason, of course, was the weekly celebration of the Resurrection of Jesus from the dead on that First Easter Sunday morning. But there evolved another reason for the changes. This reforming of the calendar emphasized the church’s understanding of the primacy of grace in our redemption.
The celebration of the first day of the week gives us a day off, before we have done any work. We are given the first day off each week, because the rest that God gives is not earned by our effort, but is a gift freely granted. The Lord’s Day was not seen as a day for recovery, so much as a day for preparation. It was not primarily a day to confess the failures of the past week, but a day to celebrate the power of the resurrection made available to us as we enter into the week before us.
Now the mathematician would retort, what’s the difference! It is still one day. But that’s not quite true. Our attitude towards a day can transpose its entire significance. Judaism had left behind the impression that we work hard for six days and then get a day off for good behaviour. The Sabbath was seen as a reward for hard work and good works. Christianity wanted nothing to do with that viewpoint. We have been given this gift not because we deserve it, but because we need it.
This same understanding is picked up in the difference between closing the day and opening the day with worship. In Judaism the worship service closed the day as darkness descended. But the Christians met at the dawning of the first day each week, not so much to apologize for the way the past week had gone, but to start a new week in the power of the Resurrection, which was theirs through the gift of the Holy Spirit. Now that’s the way to start a new week!
Published in Light and Life, March-April, 2006