Thinking Through Sundays (Is Sunday the Sabbath Day?)

The former pastor of the church wondered what the new pastor of the church, me, would think of my neighbour cutting grass on a Sunday. Dropping by to see me, as he rounded the corner on his walk he discovered that it wasn’t a neighbour at all. It was me!

There is a lack of confusion about the Sabbath and Sundays. Notice that I didn’t say there is a lot of confusion about the Sabbath and Sundays, but there is a lack of confusion. Everyone knows that Sunday is the Sabbath, right? Everyone knows that no one, especially Baptist pastors, should cut the grass on a Sunday, right? We all know it is a day of rest, right?

Should we be confused about Sabbath and Sundays?

Well yes, for starters anytime we find the Sabbath mentioned in the Bible, which is a lot, it is the seventh day of the week.

Secondly, nowhere in the Bible are we commanded to gather to worship God on first day of the week.

So how is it that Jewish people, and some Christians like Seventh Day Adventists and Seventh Day Baptists, celebrate the Sabbath on the seventh day, yet the vast majority of Christians, now, and throughout history, celebrate on the first day?

It turns out that very early in the history of Christianity, followers of Jesus began getting into the habit of worshipping on the first day of the week. They called it the Lord’s Day. We find no command to do so in New Testament, but we do find some hints, though not many, that this was happening as early as that time. For example,

On the first day of the week, we gathered with the local believers to share in the Lord’s Supper. Paul was preaching to them, and since he was leaving the next day, he kept talking until midnight.

Acts 20:7 (NLT)

Some might suggest that a young man falling asleep while Paul was speaking, as is related in verses 8 and following, is proof that this was indeed a Sunday church service! We also find this in the Book of Revelation;

It was the Lord’s Day, and I was worshiping in the Spirit. Suddenly, I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet blast.

Revelation 1:10 (NLT)

While this last verse does not specifically link “the Lord’s Day” with the first day of the week, we know that early Christians did think of Sunday as being “the Lord’s Day.” John is most likely referring to Sunday here.

So what happened, that we see Christians paying less devotion to the seventh day of the week as the Sabbath Day, while also beginning to pay more attention to the first day of the week, not as the Sabbath Day moved, but as a different day, the Lord’s Day?

What happened was that Jesus rose from the dead on the first day of the week. Something remarkable happened, resurrection, to someone remarkable, Jesus, that caused the apostles to know more deeply and profoundly something remarkable about God, namely that, as Paul would say, “God is for us and not against us,” and as John would say “God is love.”

This was profoundly good news, and so the earliest Jesus followers began to gather for worship and mutual encouragement on Sundays, to commemorate the resurrection of Jesus which happened on a Sunday. At the same time there was a shift in attitude toward the Sabbath, but we will think about that next week.

This invites us to reimagine Sundays for our time. We might think of Sundays as being the Sabbath day, a day of rest, a day on which we should not work. But what if we see Sunday instead as a day that commemorates the resurrection of Jesus, a day to remember that God is for us and not against us, and that God is love. What if we think of Sunday, not as a day of obligation to keep rules, like thou shalt attend church and thou shalt not cut thy grass or the like, but as a day of opportunity, to recenter and refocus our lives on the fact of God’s love?

When we begin the week with a focus on the fact that Jesus is the risen Lord, and that God is love, and that God is for us and not against us, we will gain new perspective for all that we face. Is there pain and sorrow? God is for us and not against us. Is there anxiety? God is for us and not against us. Is there grief? God is for us and not against us. Is there guilt? God is for us and not against us. Are there decisions that need to be made? God is love and we are commanded to love too.

Notice what that does not just for our own attitudes, but for our attitude toward outsiders. Perhaps we will be less likely to think of those not attending church as rule breakers, but as people who, like us, face hardships, pain, grief, and anxiety. We will see them as people who could benefit from knowing that God is for them and not against them. When we make Sundays about the rules of Sabbath keeping and church attendance, we may well come across as judgemental toward those who don’t keep the rules. When we make Sundays about an opportunity to connect, and reconnect with God who loves us, maybe we will across as more loving and understanding in our invitation.

There is no commandment given in Scripture for Christians to gather on Sundays. There is barely a mention of them doing so! But the tradition of gathering on the Lord’s Day sets up a rhythm, a regular rhythm of remembrance that is wise.

At my heaviest, at 248 lbs, I figured my days of windsurfing were over. I lamented that my body would give shape to my life and determine the things I could and could not do. That was 60lbs ago. I now believe that, apart from illness or disease, our lives give shape to our bodies. Likewise, we may allow our lives to give shape to our worship, to our church attendance, to our gathering for mutual encouragement, or the lack thereof. We are too busy, we are too wounded. Perhaps we are too angry. Instead we can let our worship, our gathering to re-centre on Jesus, our gathering with others for mutual encouragement, to give shape to our lives. A regular rhythm of worship is wise.

Brian Zahnd’ describes in his book “When Everything on Fire” a pastor who announced the Sunday following Easter that he had lost his faith and was quitting his job as pastor. Zahnd’s next line was “no more Easters.”

I have a very different announcement; every Sunday is Easter Sunday. Every Sunday is a commemoration of the death and resurrection of Jesus. Way more Easters!

There is a lack of confusion about Sundays and the Sabbath. We all know that Sunday is about being on a guilt trip. Where we should and should not be, what we should and should not be doing. But if we allow ourselves a little confusion about that, we may gain some wisdom. Sundays are not about a guilt trip, but about a journey with God who is love. Sundays are a journey with others, walking together in divine love.

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2 thoughts on “Thinking Through Sundays (Is Sunday the Sabbath Day?)

  1. For some mowing the grass is pleasurable, a rest, a reprieve from the regular office job from the week days… mental rest doing activities (similar to gardening) with our lord that they weren’t able to do during the week… For some, mowing is prayer…LOVED that it wasn’t a neighbor at all, but that it was you who was cutting the grass!

    Like

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