Should Sunday be different from any other day of the week?
by Father James Ermer
Father James Ermer
Time is an interesting study of planetary movements and the world of religion. For Christians, time has been radically changed since Christ rose from the dead on the first day of the week (Sunday). Death is no longer the last word of human existence. With Christ’s resurrection and the coming of the Holy Spirit (Pentecost) on the first day of the week, life with the Resurrected One in the realm of heaven is the new norm that shapes all time.
For Christians, Sunday is the spiritual fulfillment of all the Sabbath was meant to be for the Jewish people. In two places in the Hebrew Scripture (the Old Testament), God commands the Israelites to keep holy the Sabbath, which is the seventh day (Saturday). It was on the seventh day of creation that God rested, blessing it and making it holy (Gen 2:3). Secondly the Sabbath is to be a memorial of God freeing the Israelites from slavery in Egypt in the Exodus story (Deut 5:15).
What is the theological meaning or significance of the Sabbath, which has been elevated and fulfilled in Sunday? It seems three truths are captured in these days of Sabbath/Sunday.
First, in the creation story, it says God rested. Why does God need to rest? God is almighty. God should be able to go on forever without resting. God rests because the rest of creation needs to catch up and speak to God and acknowledge to God and with God that “all is good.” This “catching up” to God and speaking to God of his goodness is called worship.
Some commentators have spoken of this as God having property rights and worship is the way we pay rent, or it is a protest against a servitude to work or the worship of money. It gives testimony of our belonging to God, or the non-affirmation of self all the while acknowledging God’s sovereignty in all things. Therefore, not to celebrate the Sabbath and rest from work (as God did) is to say it is all about human activity and our self-sufficiency. As such, Sabbath, observance or lack of observance, is a measure of either faith or unbelief.
Secondly, the Exodus story is about God forming a people to be his very own through a 40-year sojourn in the desert. Scripture says the Sabbath is meant to memorialize this coming-of-age of the chosen people.
In Jewish history, the Sabbath was a day of rest for all people, even slaves and aliens. As such, the Sabbath was a day when all were equal. There was no domination. The Sabbath presents a vision of what God desires life to be like among people in the world. The Sabbath reminds us of the work yet to be done if the love of God is to ever see the “light of day.”
Thirdly, with the resurrection of Christ on the first day, Sunday has become the day that captures and completes all the Sabbath was meant to be. Rest in the creation story is now the eternal rest of heaven. The liberation of the Israelites from bondage in Egypt is now the liberation of the human race from the bonds of death. On Sunday, the eternity of God’s love is seen in all its glory. Keeping it holy is the least people can do.
The themes of these three great acts of God – Creation, Exodus, Resurrection – should still reverberate in the ways we keep holy the Lord’s Day. Sunday is the day we “catch up” to Christ and give thanks in Eucharistic worship and praise. Sunday is the day we build up the Body of Christ by gathering in love of family, by resting in the company of friends, and by visiting brothers and sisters who find themselves alone and disconnected from the wellsprings of love. Sunday is the day we pause in quiet rest only to be taken up into God’s glory as we immerse ourselves in the beauty of creation, ponder the lives of the saints and are renewed by the innocence of children and the wisdom of the elderly.
As such the work of Sunday is not shopping, housekeeping or a sundry of other things that can be done Monday through Saturday. The work of Sunday is to catch up to God at the altar of his love and be fed with his life. Such divine life impels us to seek out family and friends in a fellowship of love and become enthralled “that eye has not seen and ear has not heard... what God has prepared for those who love him” (1 Cor 2:9).
This work of Sunday is what feeds the work of Monday through Saturday and the cycle of keeping Sunday holy goes on until heaven and earth meet in the dance of eternal life. Such is the commandment “to keep holy the Lord’s Day.”
Father James Ermer serves as pastor of St. Leo’s Church in Casselton and St. Thomas Church in Buffalo.
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