For the Life of the World 14

This post continues with my thoughts on section 3 of the third chapter of For the Life of the World. Here is the link to Deacon Michael Hyatt’s  podcast on chapter three if you’ve not already listened to it.

From the beginning Christians had their own day, and it is in its peculiar nature that we fine the key to the Christian experience of time.

The day is a basic unit of our experience of time. I get up. I go to work. Kids go to school. We have meals. We engage in activities. All these things are contained by days and often by a cycle of days. So it’s not surprising that in order to understand the Christian experience we start at the day. As I noted earlier, the Christian day is not the Sabbath, but it is also not divorced from the Jewish experience of Sabbath, something that can be lost if you simply understand it as “doing no work.”

In the Jewish religious experience Sabbath, the seventh day, has a tremendous importance: it is the participation by man in, and his affirmation of, the goodness of God’s creation. … The seventh day is thus the joyful acceptance of the world created by God as good. The rest prescribed on that day, and which was somehow obscured later by legalistic and petty prescriptions and taboos, is not at all our modern “relaxation,” an absence of work. It is the active participation in the “Sabbath delight,” in the sacredness and fullness of divine peace as the fruit of all work, as the crowning of all time.

No, I have nothing against Sabbath, but even Sabbath properly understood has a problem.

Yet this “good” world, which the Jew blesses on the seventh day, is at the same time the world of sin and revolt against God, and its time is the time of man’s exile and alienation from God. … In the late Jewish apocalyptic writings there emerges the idea of a new day which is both the eighth — because it is beyond the frustrations and limitations of “seven,” the time of this world — and the first, because with it begins the new time, that of the Kingdom. It is from this idea that grew the Christian Sunday.

Seven represent completeness in Jewish (and for that matter Christian) thought. That’s what makes the structure of John’s telling of new creation in his gospel so significant. On the sixth day, Pilate says, “Behold the man!” and Jesus is crucified. On the seventh he rests in the tomb. And then, rather than being the end of John’s narrative of new creation, John 20 opens amazingly, “Now the first day of the week Mary Magdalene went to the tomb early, while it was still dark, and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb.” There is a second first day in John’s narrative which is also the eighth.

Christ rose from the dead on the first day after Sabbath. The life that shone forth from the grave was beyond the inescapable limitations of “seven,” of time that leads to death. It was thus the beginning of a new life and of a new time.

From the moment Christ rose from the tomb, the time of the Kingdom began. As Christians, we already live within that time, rather than the old time bounded by sevens. We live in the unbounded eighth day of creation.

A “fixed day.” … If Christianity were a purely “spiritual” and eschatological faith there would have been no need for a “fixed day,” because mysticism has no interest in time. To save one’s soul one needs, indeed, no “calendar.” And if Christianity were but a new “religion,” it would have established its calendar, with the usual opposition between the “holy days” and the “profane days” — those to be “kept” and “observed” and those religiously insignificant. Both understandings did in fact appear later. But this was not at all the original meaning of the “fixed day.” It was not meant to be a “holy day” opposed to profane ones, a commemoration in time of a past event. Its true meaning was in the transformation of time, not of calendar. For, on the one hand, Sunday remained one of the days (for more than three centuries it was not even a day of rest), the first of the week, fully belonging to this world. Yet on the other hand, on that day, through the eucharistic ascension, the Day of the Lord was revealed and manifested in all its glory and transforming power as the end of this world, as the beginning of the world to come.  … The week was no longer a sequence of “profane” days, with rest on the “sacred” day at their end. … Every day, every hour acquired now an importance, a gravity it could not have had before: each day was now to be a step in this movement, a moment of decision and witness, a time of ultimate meaning. Sunday therefore was not a “sacred” day to be “observed” apart from all other days and opposed to them. … By remaining one of the ordinary days, and yet be revealing itself through the Eucharist as the eighth and first day, it gave all days their true meaning. It made the time of this world a time of the end, and it made it also the time of the beginning.

The above is dense and you may need to read it a few times. But it captures something that is important and that we have almost completely lost in our modern world. If we cannot recover it, we will not live within a Christian sense of time and our ability to shape and sanctify the time in which we live will continue to be severely muted. Sunday is not first and foremost about a day we remember and keep holy. It is a day set apart. It’s not that somehow every day is now Sunday in a way that renders no day special. But Sunday, representing all “ordinary” days is set apart so that in and through our recognition of the Resurrection of Jesus on the first day, we make all days now holy. There are no days, just as there are no places, in a Christian perspective of reality, that are not holy. The first day and the eighth day are one.

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