Soon after I began a parish ministry a member of the congregation asked for a visit to talk “things over.” Having no idea, what “things” needed discussion, I made the visit with some trepidation. The long-time parish member claimed to want to be supportive of the church but had some difficulty getting out, mainly due to an invalid spouse. Hence, I suspected the parishioner needed to talk about final arrangements, a memorial gift to the parish, or something like that. Not so, the parishioner wanted clarification. After attending a Seventh Day Adventist seminar at a local motel a question rose needing an answer. The parishioner wanted to know why it is that Christians call Sunday the Sabbath when it is clear that the Sabbath is the seventh day of the week, not the first day.
Not being prepared for a question like that, at first I stumbled a little. Therefore, I reversed the question and asked the parishioner, “Why indeed do Christians observe their day of worship on the first day of the week and not the seventh?” Then I added, “Certainly, the Adventists are correct by reminding us that in the Ten Commandments given by God to Moses the Sabbath (the Seventh Day) is a day of rest and observed as a holy day.”
“That’s what I am asking you,” the parishioner replied.
Being astonished that an Episcopalian had such I question, I paused again waiting for the light to burst over the parishioner’s head. When it did not, I said, “The answer is Easter. Recall the events as described in the Gospels. Friday is the day of Jesus’ crucifixion, the day before the Sabbath observance. Taken down from the cross and laid in a tomb that evening, no one does anything concerning caring for the body, other than what law allows on Friday. To deal with the dead on the Sabbath defiles the devout Jew for the Sabbath. Therefore, they waited until the next day, the first day of the week.”
I told the parishioner all that and then said, “Every Sunday, the first day of week, is an Easter celebration. Even during Lent, Easter is treated in our liturgical understanding as a feast day—a day on which we can break our fast.”
Nevertheless, we are to observe the Sabbath. “For example,” I told the parishioner, “there is a prayer or collect in the Book of Common Prayer recognizing Saturday as the Sabbath, a day of rest.” We find the prayer or collect in the Morning Daily Office (Morning Prayer). The prayer is the Collect for Saturdays.
Almighty God, who after the creation of the world rested from all your works and sanctified a day of rest for all your creatures: Grant that we, putting away all earthly anxieties, may be duly prepared for the service of your sanctuary, and that our rest here upon earth may be a preparation for the eternal rest promised to your people in heaven…
When I discovered that prayer, I felt liberated and told my wife every time a Saturday project came up, “I am observing the Sabbath.” Saturday is a day of rest. There is no shopping, no lawn mowing, no housework, just rest on Saturday. The rest we take on Saturday prepares us for Sunday, a day of worship, remembering that Jesus defeated death and sin on the first day of the week. Further, Jesus, according to tradition, but not Scripture, will return with the sunrise on a first day of the week. As I instructed the confused parishioner about the importance of Sunday and the reason for worshipping on that day, I expected to see the parishioner joining with us at Sunday worship. The parishioner never showed up; I suspect the answer did not satisfy.
Let me reinforce the importance of Sunday again, this time to a wider audience. Every Sunday is a restatement that to be Christian is to be expectant of the resurrection and to believe that Jesus is the first-born of God’s new creation of the resurrected. We say that is so when we recite the Nicene Creed every week as part of worship. Recall, we say, “We look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come.”
Christians, especially Episcopalians, are people of the Resurrection believing in the power of God to renew life at every stage of life and to renew it ultimately for all. This is a unique religious statement. Muslims believe in paradise and a final judgment. Buddhists believe in Nirvana. Nevertheless, Christians believe in the resurrection of life, which is beyond heaven, pearly gates, and golden streets. Christians who adhere to the creedal statements of the early church believed, given a new opportunity to live, life is in the presence of God. There is actually no explanation of this condition other than to say we will share in Jesus’ resurrection; he is the first-born of a new creation.
This new creation is the joy we share at Easter. While it seems that we are celebrating a rebirth, it is more than that. Seen in the idea of a rebirth are the symbols of spring such as eggs, rabbits, and flowers. The resurrection is more.Jesus is not reborn but established from simple mortal figure to the living presence of God on the earth. Nevertheless, not deprived of humanity,Jesus now exalts humanity’s creation affirming all humans are the children and heirs of the same divine beneficence of a new spiritual life.
In this new life, humanity comes out of its tombs of despair, rage, greed, and self-absorption, and enters into the experiences God intends for the created order. God intends for the kinship of humans recognizing the divine spark in the human soul. God created the universe, this planet and island home called earth and all the creatures intending that humans treat with it with awe rather than exploitation. God intends that the people of the earth live in harmony with creation and with each other. In the resurrected life, which can be experienced without waiting for the end of the age, the love Christ Jesus has demonstrated through his life, his self-sacrifice on the cross, and the victory of his resurrection over sin and death is our to grasp and to share.
Make Easter, therefore, your principal way of life believing in the power of God to raise you to a new life experience, a new life experience that will ultimately lead you to feasting at the Great Banquet table of our Resurrected Lord. Let God be a present in your life today and allow God’s realities of the beauty of human life, the diversity of living things, and magnificence of the stars beyond our vision fill you with awe.
Live in awe of God, live in the reality of new beginnings, and finally live in the beauty of holiness.