As I am wont to do, I have been reflecting on the Lord’s Day. Because of its prominence in Scripture, its importance in believers’ lives, and necessity for true church practice, I don’t think we can truly plumb the depths of its meaning in this lifetime. Lately my thoughts on the Sabbath Day, or Lord’s Day, have been focused on its eschatological dimensions, on it being an eschatological day. In other words, the Lord’s Day is a day that longs for, foreshadows, and is a foretaste of the consummation of all things and to eternity in the new heavens and the new earth.
For believers especially, Sundays are not just a day off work, a morning to go to church, a day for sports, or a day to catch up on errands. Nor is the importance of the day appreciated when believers just put in their time at an hour-long worship service in the morning (if that) and devote the rest of the day to their own agenda. Thoughts that we need to streamline worship or cut down on preaching length ring hollow when compared to a biblical view of the Sabbath. It almost seems like we want to make the worship service shorter so that our congregants’ schedules are not cut into. But the preaching of Christ and Him crucified and raised from the dead should inform our Lord’s Day observance.
Christ is the first fruits of the resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:20). It is because of His resurrection that we celebrate the Christian Sabbath on Sunday, the Lord’s Day. Every Sunday, then, is a celebration of Christ’s victory over death in the resurrection. This gives us opportunity to celebrate His resurrection as our Savior as well as to anticipate the future resurrection of the dead at the last day. The Lord’s Day, then, is almost like a reminder of the down payment for the resurrection of the dead when Christ returns. The Christian Sabbath is a foretaste of eternity in this regard, foreshadowing it while provoking longing and yearning for that day. Michael Horton writes,
“Representing the consummation, this sabbatical pattern was the way not only of hoping for the new creation but of experiencing it and participating in its peace…The Lord’s Day is the festival of the new creation to be treasured, a day not only that we set aside but that sets us aside. As children of this day, we proclaim that we are not our own but are bought with a price. It is a weekly Easter Day, transforming our identity and relation to this age by that power of the Spirit who raised Jesus from the dead. The Sabbath should not be treated as a blank space in the week but as the one space that is filled and overflowing with the richest gifts of divine activity.” (in A Better Way, chapter 11)
With these eschatological elements and divine activity in mind, what we do on the Lord’s Day should be a conscious response and anticipation of such things. What did the early church practice in light of Christ’s recent resurrection? They devoted themselves to sitting under preaching, fellowshipping with other believers, celebrating the sacraments, and the prayers (Acts 2:42). This eschatological perspective should affect the worship service especially. Celebrating the Lord’s Supper on the Lord’s Day is an anticipation of the future marriage supper of the Lamb. We respond to God by singing His Word back to him in psalms and hymns that declare Christ as the risen King and not proclaiming our own piety, emotions, or good intentions. We confess our sins, coming to God as broken and sinful creatures in need of a Savior. We hear the assurance of pardon from God’s Word that we have been reconciled to Him, and to renew our covenant with Him. We hear God speak through his messenger, which breaks us down by the imperatives of the law and builds us back up in Christ through the glorious indicatives of the gospel. On the Lord’s Day we also sharpen one another in fellowship with one another, which is also a foretaste of eternity. We devote time to learn about God and talk about Him with our family and friends.
The Christian Sabbath – the Lord’s Day – is not just a day off from work where we can do the things we wish we could do during the week. It’s not a day to catch up on recreation, work, shopping, or whatever else we didn’t have time for during the work week. Not having time during the week is not an excuse for Sabbath breaking. God has made time for us in the Lord’s Day and we are commanded to make time for Him. The Christian Sabbath is not a legalistic day but a joyous, gladsome time for us to rest from our labors while enjoying Him and His good gifts, worshipping him in spirit and truth, and looking forward to our eternal Sabbath, the new heavens and the new earth (Hebrews 4).