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The Sabbath or Lord's Day?

By David Morrison

We keep the Eighth Day with joy, the day when Jesus rose from the dead. Letter of Barnabas, c. AD 70-120

Growing up in a fairly typical Christian home in the 1950's and '60's Sunday was THE special day of our week. Looking back on that time I realize that, for us, the whole week was actually a preparation for what would happen on Sunday. Monday of course began the workweek - school week for me - with all the attendant hubbub, but as the week progressed one could "feel" something special coming. About Wednesday, my grandmother would look ahead to the readings for the coming Church Service and bring up their topics at dinner or later in the evening; on Thursday she'd do the shopping for the Big Dinner we always had after Church; on Friday Mother made sure all our Church clothes were ready. Saturday was "open" and I always spent it with my friends, but I noticed the adults were talking more about church, their friends there, and about the latest parish news.

Sunday mornings I always woke up with a sense of excitement...Church! I loved going. I loved seeing my friends, of course, but I truly enjoyed seeing all the other people, the adults, in their "Sunday best" (as we still called it), and smelling all the colognes and perfumes mingling together with the "church smells"...lingering incense and candle wax, that distinctive paint smell all churches seem to have, the scent of pews recently Old Golded or Pledged in preparation. Then, it was time and we all gradually filed into the church proper to find our accustomed seats.

I remember my gran and parents kneeling briefly, then a flurry of activity as tissues and throat lozenges came out of purses, Prayer Book pages were marked, the posted hymns found. The organist, of course, was playing the prelude through much of this (my introduction to Bach), then she'd finish and there would be a few moments of expectant silence then...the swell of the organ, all rose to their feet, and the glorious strains of a hymn filled the church as the clergy and choir followed the Cross to the Altar. I thrilled every time! From that moment of the Procession to the Final Hymn and Dismissal, I felt warm and safe and protected, surrounded by the Holy, by "angels and archangels and all the host of Heaven."

But, what does all this lovely reminiscence have to do with the question of whether one ought to worship on the Sabbath (Saturday) or on Sunday? Well, everything actually.

You see, all the things I mentioned in my reminiscence are things Christians in every age would be familiar with: Wednesday as a "station day," a midweek remembrance of God and His Word, Thursdays and Fridays as days of preparation, Saturday as a day of anticipation, and Sunday, the Lord's Day, the day of gathering with other believers to commemorate and celebrate what God in Christ has done for us. That "in Christ" is important because for us who believe in Jesus, that He really is God's Son and Savior, everything has meaning ONLY "in Christ," and that includes the Old Testament and all it's promises and prophecies.

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Growing up in the liturgical English Tradition I was aware from the earliest age of God's gracious dealings with the Jewish people. I knew who Moses was, and Joshua, and Ruth, and the Prophets. I knew what the feasts of old represented, and that the Jews kept "holy the Sabbath Day." From an early age I also knew why we, as believers in Jesus, did not keep the old feasts nor observe the Sabbath. The reason was simple (and still seems so to me in my old age): Jesus fulfilled the promises and the feasts and, yes, even the Sabbath Day. THAT is part of the Good News...all the things that people were looking to be fulfilled by the Messiah's Coming WERE fulfilled. That is what, "It is finished!" meant. We didn't make this idea up...we inherited it from all the Christians who had come before us, that "great cloud of witnesses" St. Paul talks about.

When I was about 12 my grandmother (the amateur theologian and historian of our household) bought a large set of books about the Bible, the Early Church, and Church History. In one of those I read about some folks who were mentioned in the New Testament and (real excitement here!) I read their OWN writings. Writings that were not considered Scripture by the Church BUT that did give us clear ideas of what early believers did believe. One of these was Barnabas. Remember him, Paul's friend. He (or some other early Christian writing in the name and spirit of Barnabas) also wrote a letter, about AD 74. Now, that's pretty early and certainly in Apostolic Days. Here is what he said about when believers in Jesus worshipped: "We keep the Eighth Day with joy, the day when Jesus rose from the dead."

Hmmm. The Eighth Day. Interesting phrase, but what does it mean? Well, it's actually a very Jewish expression. The full phrase is, "the Eighth Day of Creation." In Jewish lore, before and during the time of Jesus, it was said that when the Messiah should come the Creation would move into its eighth day, the Day of Fulfillment. In the Old Covenant the Seventh Day was hallowed because God had rested on that day; but when Messiah the King came, a New Day would dawn, the Day when God would make all things new, and would "recreate the world." Hence, those who would enter that period must themselves be "born again," become "new creatures," part of this New Creation of the World. Paul mentions this Eighth Day, as do many of the early Fathers of the Church.

Just thirty years after Barnabas' letter was written, Ignatius, the bishop of Antioch wrote this: "No longer do we observe the Sabbath, but live in observance of the Lord's Day." He goes on to tell us when this day is - Sunday - and calls it the "queen of days" because Jesus rose on it. Ignatius, by the way, was of Jewish background and he himself tells us that he was the child who sat on Christ's lap at the blessing of the children mentioned in the Bible. He was no "Hellenizing Gentile," but one of the People of Israel who had found his all in Jesus. You see, no blatant or latent anti Semitism here, but a deep and JEWISH understanding of the Truth. Understand please, these early Fathers, many of whom were of Jewish background, were not undermining the Sabbath but were actually extolling it for what God meant it to be...the Queen of Days that reigned until Messiah came. She was the preparation. But Jesus did come, Messiah and Lord of the Sabbath, and He rose on the eighth day, Sunday, and inaugurated a New Age: the Age of the Kingdom of God breaking in. And a New Age requires a new time frame and new ways of marking time here on earth.

There is another way of looking at this too: The Sabbath was appointed for national Israel while God was using them to prepare the world for Christ, but now that Christ has come, the Eighth Day signifies the Universal Kingdom made up of every race and nation. Now that Jesus had inaugurated God's Age of Full Redemption, we no longer focus on days and times and seasons and rites limited to the Jewish Dispensation...we focus on the whole world, and our days and rites are celebrated accordingly. New Wine, new wineskins.

Bringing this all back to my childhood reminiscences, I remember my grandmother often saying of Jesus that, "His coming changed everything, even the fabric of the universe." She was right, you know. Time has changed and THAT is what the Lord's Day is all about. If I were to worship on Saturday, the old Sabbath, I would be in fellowship with all those Jewish folks of every age who also observed Shabbat and Purim and Channukah and Yom Kippur and all the other feasts...and blessed were they; but worshipping on the Eighth Day, the Day of Resurrection, I know that I am worshipping with the New Community of God, the Universal Kingdom of "angels and archangels and all the company of Heaven." Won't you join us?

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