Happy New Year to you all. We have passed from a week of remembering the year past into a time of resolutions about the year to come. Another milestone passed (illusory though it may be) and we begin anew the year to come.
It is then a perfect time to think about something that struck me on last Sunday. On Sunday I was listening to a sermon that mentioned the shift in understanding our day of Sabbath from Saturday to Sunday as Christianity emerged from its Jewish roots. (I won’t go into a history of this switch here… the change is early enough to Christianity’s emergence to have been commonplace by the second century.)
What I’m intrigued by is that Sunday Sabbath is, like New Year’s Day, a sort of weekly line in the sand. It is technically day one in the week (though many people probably actually live more like Monday is the first day) and it sets a tone for the week to come.
I’m intrigued by this because I think sometimes we think of Sunday as like a rest day to recover from the week past. This makes me ask, why do we insist on living in such a way that we need to recover from how we live? How out of control are we? In the day of “sustainability” there is little about our lives that is lived in a way that is sustainable. We run until we drop (I parent that way too sometimes… I even name it the run ‘em till they drop strategy). In this world Sunday is treated like the hospital some people name it (you know you’ve heard it, “hospital for sinners, not a rest home for saints”).
It strikes me that either of these understandings of church, hospital or rest home, make Sundays all about what has past. We are either the king’s horses putting humpty back together… or we are resting on our laurels as we recall all the wonders we have done.
But Sunday isn’t about the week past. Sunday is the start of something new. Sunday is the first… not the last (It might just be both… I have talked elsewhere about the need to be rooted in past, present, and future and you can find that post here: https://akukla.wordpress.com/2012/09/06/people-of-memory-presence-and-hope/ ). Our shift to sabbathing (as well as primary day of worship) on Sunday was intentionally to be the first day… to associate with creation and new creation. We worship on Sunday to make each week a reminder that we live as resurrection people. Thus it is that I the thought hit me, “worship forward.” We don’t worship something in the past. We worship the God who is alive and at work in the world. We may be put back together, but not for the sake of running ourselves ragged again. We participate in resurrection to find a new way forward that doesn’t cause exhaustion, that seeks justice, and is infused with love. Sunday is about setting the tone for the week to come. When we worship forward our Sunday invades the rest of the week. We live each day differently for the sake of beginning in Sunday.
The second understanding of the Sabbath commandment that comes from Deuteronomy 5 contexts it in the reminder that we were slaves in Egypt. Sabbath is an orientation to freeing people from slavery. Our Sunday worship ought to orient us towards a different future, a better, more justice, more whole, more loving future. We do not worship what was, or what is… we worship forward.
This reminds me of two favorite thoughts on the subject. One on what is worship is, from Isaiah 58,
“Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover them, and not to hide yourself from your own kin? Then your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up quickly.”
When we worship forward our worship enables freedom, justice, healing, and authentic community. Our worship makes us live differently; our living differently BECOMES our worship. The other thought comes from William Faulkner (as quoted by Eugene Peterson),
“They are not monuments but footprints. A monument says, ‘At least I got this far,’ while a footprint says, ‘This is where I was when I moved again.”
Our worship is a footstep. It is not so much a rest stop, but a launching platform. Our worship can easily become monuments. It becomes about us, about what we have done, about what God is doing for us… but ultimately, I believe, our worship ought to serve as a rallying call for the ways we need to join God at work. Its God saying, “Hey, look over here. I’m at work here – why don’t you join me. I need you, and the world needs you too.” And when we do that we fast the fast God chooses, breaking down injustice, removing burdens, offering healing, enabling peace – we worship forward!