Sunday, Glorious Day of the Lord: A Resource A resource
We, as Reformed Churches in The Netherlands, are under the authority of the fourth commandment as part of the Ten Commandments and all instruction contained in the Holy Scriptures. It is partly because of this commandment that we celebrate the Sunday as the day of the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. We desire to understand more and more of how the Sunday has been granted to us by Him for our redemption and for the sanctification of all of our daily life.
1. Section of instruction
1. From Sabbath to Sunday
In the same way that Israel celebrated the Sabbath throughout the ages so the Christian church has received the Sunday as day of the Lord. Jesus Christ calls himself ‘Lord, also of the Sabbath’ (Mk. 2:28). He has rendered perfect obedience to God and made the perfect sacrifice for sin. On the first day of the week He arose from the dead. God’s great works in the completion of creation and in the liberation of his people from slavery were the motives for the celebration of the Sabbath. In Christ God decisively furthers the history of his redemption. God’s great work in the resurrection of his Son from the dead is now an additional motive for the celebration of the Sunday.
In the New Testament the first day of the week was the day for Christ’s appearances to his disciples (John 20:19, 26). The first Christian congregation gathered every day in the temple and in the houses (Acts 2:46). The first day of the week acquires its special character in the assembly by listening to the instruction of the apostles, the breaking of bread (Acts 20:7) and by the laying aside of gifts (1 Cor. 16:2). Later this day was called ‘the day of the Lord’ (Rev. 1:10), the name that the Christian church gave to the Sunday. That is why we call the Sunday the ‘glorious day of the Lord’.
2. The day and the days of the Lord
In the New Testament the celebration of the Sunday is not connected to the fourth commandment of God’s law in so many words. Each day and the whole of life is sanctified by Christ. Whoever celebrates a certain day as a feast day does so to honour God (Rom. 14:6). In the New Testament world, the Sunday was first an ordinary work day. This day soon received its own specific identity, when the congregations of Christ assembled in the morning and in the evening.
Christ is the fulfilment of the whole law (Mt. 5:17) and he takes up God’s commandments in his teachings about the kingdom. The great commandment of love and perfection gives strength to those who live in the footsteps of the Master. The gospel account tells us how he observed the Sabbath according to the commandment and participated in the assemblies in the synagogue. In the course of the gospel one would not expect the celebration of the seventh day to change, until Jesus had died and his body was resting in the grave on the Sabbath. It is the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead which determines the difference between the new and the old.
Just like the other commandments, the fourth commandment comes to us in Christ. In his Person and in the unity of the Scriptures the church wants to understand what it means to remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy and to rest on the day of the LORD. In the freedom of the Spirit we want to do justice to the temporary, the lasting, and the new aspects in the will of God with respect to the fourth of the Ten Commandments.
3. The temporary, lasting, and new aspects
God wants to give his creatures rest and allow them to catch their breath (Ex. 23:12). He wants to free them from the burden of working under the curse. The creation-motive (Gen. 2:2-3; Ex. 20:11) is reinforced by the redemption-motive (Dt. 5:15). Man, animal and land are allowed to share in the rest that God gives.
- We see the temporary aspect of the fourth commandment in the seventh day, in the living in the promised land, in the claim of God’s law on Israel’s society, and in the regulation with respect to the Sabbath which the LORD commanded his people. In this way too, the law has led Israel to the Saviour. The Scriptures also call the Sabbath a shadow of the things to come, while Christ is the substance (Col. 2:17). The promised land gave temporary expression to the rest. The Christian church in the world is now a sojourning church. Christians are not always or everywhere in the world in a position to make the day of rest and the Sunday coincide.
- There are also lasting aspects of the fourth commandment. We see them first of all in how labour and rest alternate. We see them further in the assemblies before the LORD on the day of rest and on the feast days. We see them in the letting go of all human achievements and in living from the generous hand of God. When God after six days finished his work of creating, we already hear how God rested from his work (Gen. 2:2-3; Ex. 20:11). The Lord Jesus adds that the Sabbath is made for man (Mk. 2:27). He demonstrates this in his proclamation of the gospel. He also demonstrates it in acts of healing and liberation for the children of Israel, acts performed also on the Sabbath. They especially point to the rest which can be found in him and to which he invites God’s people (Mt. 11:28-12:21).
- The new aspect is that by Christ’s resurrection it is no longer the seventh day of the week, but the first day that comes under the spotlight. In Him the true rest is found (Mt. 11:28-30). He is our Sabbath. The whole life of sinners is freed from the burden of sin and guilt by him. He makes light shine over all the days of the week and over all the peoples of the world. The coming of his kingdom will give us everlasting Sabbath peace (Heb. 4:9). Hence we pray: ‘Come, Lord Jesus’ (Rev. 22:20).
4. Sunday, the day for the church
From this new aspect which came in Christ, the lasting dimensions of the fourth commandment can now be seen. The command to rest from one’s own work and exertion needs to be made concrete. Especially on Sunday we learn to find rest in the accomplished work of our Creator and in the accomplished sufferings of our Saviour. Proceeding from his resurrection, the first day of the week receives a new character in Scripture. The living Lord gathers his congregation around him on that day. He sends her out into everyday life in order to let the light shine.
The assemblies of the congregation are in line with Israel’s ‘holy assemblies’ on the Sabbath. We are encouraged not to ‘give up meeting together’, all the more as we see the judgment of the day of the LORD approaching (Heb. 10:25). The ‘today’ of God’s voice which calls to repentance, applies to every day when the Word is sounded (Heb. 4:1-13). His voice is heard especially as the Holy Scriptures are read aloud and proclaimed in the assemblies. Christ is the Lord of his church, a church which he gathers into one body.
We want to do justice to the actual resting and remembering of God’s works. We do so when we celebrate the Sunday and reserve that day for the meeting together of the congregation. As Christian church we know ourselves to be called to accept the gift of this day of rest with thankfulness and to use it optimally to God’s honour. Should this opportunity be taken from us, the Sunday remains as a sign of the desire to serve the Lord in full freedom.
We encourage one another to keep this day free as much as possible from professional labour and from any other activity which would keep us from the worship services of the Lord, from meeting together as a congregation and from the rest which characterizes this day. We do justice to the fourth commandment when God’s people enjoy this day of the Lord by distancing themselves from all ordinary activities (Is. 58:13).
5. The congregation as Christ’s body
The double command of love is the summary of the law and the red thread running through all of the commandments (Mt. 22:27-40; Rom. 13:8-10). Loving God as the highest commandment is demonstrated in the gathering of the congregation with her Lord. In the assemblies, the congregation presents herself to him who is her Head. Loving one’s neighbour finds expression in the will to come together as a congregation. This congregation has ‘body of Christ’ as her title of honour. This command urges us not to forsake our assemblies, but to encourage one another (Heb. 10:25). In this body not one member can be missed (1 Cor. 12:12-31). The Sunday observance binds the members together to form this one body. Into this body we are all baptised by one Spirit (1 Cor. 12:12-13).
6. Sunday and society
By God’s providence the Sunday has come to us in Europe as a free day. The Reformed Churches in The Netherlands have always thankfully accepted this. The Dutch people, however, have abandoned the way of faith in God. They appreciate the Sunday primarily as a day off. Now that legislation has created more room to work on the Sunday, civil protection of this day as a day of the Lord has decreased. This urges us to testify publicly and unanimously, in word and deed, to the gospel of Christ. This implies:
- we point to the Creator of all that lives who has given the rhythm of working and resting to people who are created in his image;
- we testify to the Saviour who frees lost people from the power of sin and brings us together in his congregation;
- we praise the Spirit who wants to renew damaged people after the image of Christ and guides us to the renewal of heaven and earth.
We want to uphold the Sunday to the honour of the living Lord and as the day of the Christian congregation. We also stand up for maintaining the Sunday as a day of collective rest. From the very beginning, the God of Israel included also the staff, the foreigner and the animals in the day of rest (Ex. 20:10; Dt. 5:14). We also desire to give form to the celebration of the Sunday in such a way that it displays an attractive picture of our rest with God and our communion with each other. It is our prayer that this example and witness will invite also our neighbour to Christ. In our daily work, in our leisure time and on the Sunday, we want to testify to Christ by finding our rest in him. That is how we, united in our confession of Lord’s Day 38 of the Catechism, want to do justice at this time and under these circumstances to God’s purpose with regard to the fourth commandment and the Sunday.
2. Practical-ethical section
2.1 In a society with mobile phones, laptops, traffic jams, internet and email, people are rushed. Time spent in labour and leisure flow over into each other, in spite of a shortened work week. It is thus high time that we go back to learn from the Creator who made labour and leisure. Christ is Lord of redeemed slaves and of the day of rest.
2. 2Life and work continue to be subject to the curse of the fall into sin (Gen. 3:15-19). Also in a highly developed economy and society, work remains toil for many (Eccl. 1:3). Education exerts great pressure on younger and older people. For this reason, it is healthy that the Creator introduced a day of rest into the rhythm of the week (Gen. 2:2-3; Ex. 20:8-11; 23:12). In line with God’s example and command we are to come to rest, learn to enjoy life and look back on the work that has been accomplished. In this way God is honoured as the one who does all work. It all depends on his blessing, not on our performance.
The rest comes first (the laying aside of our labours), and then the celebration follows. God accomplished his creative work and thus laid the foundation for the Sabbath. Jesus Christ accomplished the work of redemption and thus laid the foundation for the Sunday. He creates time to come to rest in his nearness. His commands, also to rest, are not heavy (1 Jn. 5:3; Mt. 11:30). Thus we learn to long for the perfect rest (Heb. 4).
The LORD commanded that staff, animals and the land also share in the rest. This rest has implications for the Dutch people, society and the economy. God is concerned with the recreation (true ‘re-creation’) of his world. In word and deed the church has to testify to the rest of the Creator, Redeemer and Renewer of all that lives.
By resting we make it clear that we realize that we have been freed from slavery, also from our own sins, performances and economic laws. By celebrating the Sunday, we give expression to the recognition that Christ is Lord also of the day of rest (Mk. 2:28). When he says “Do not be anxious about the day of tomorrow”, this certainly applies to the Sunday (Mt. 6:34). On the day of rest we learn to enjoy his care, just as Israel learned it through the gift of manna.
Although the Old Testament contains few direct prescriptions for worship on the Sabbath, the celebration is given a certain form. We may point, for example, to the presence of the “tabernacle of meeting” and the offerings, to the “sacred assemblies” of the people, and later to the synagogue. Jesus was accustomed to going to the synagogue on the Sabbath (Lk. 4:16). In the New Testament, Christ appears to disciples and women after his resurrection. They assemble on the first day of the week (Jn. 20; Acts 20) which is called “the day of the Lord” by the congregation (Rev. 1:10).
Christ calls us to his congregation, which is his body. The congregation does not consist of individuals, but is the body of Christ. It is comprised of many members through the power of the Spirit. When the Redeemer calls us to his congregation, there is no room for individualism.
When the congregation convenes for worship, she presents herself as the body that puts herself in the service of Christ. In the worship service she presents herself to her God as sincerely ready to enter into God’s rest (Heb. 4). In line with the example of the Early Church, we too need the second worship service to enjoy the Sunday as a whole and as a congregation. If absenteeism from the second service becomes more common place, the congregation should be instructed and motivated to become more diligent in taking part.
In church education it is necessary to make clear the interconnectedness of:
a. God’s command and its willing obedience;
b. the congregation which assembles and what it means to be a living member;
c. the choice of a career and our personal responsibility.
We need the proclamation of the Word and the communion of saints to develop a Christian lifestyle.
When due to economic and social pressures Sunday labour increases, it is necessary to point out to each other the need for rest from our own exertion and our complete dependence on God’s blessing. Work which is in the service of the gospel (Mt. 12:4-5) and works of compassion (Mt. 12:6-7) may be necessary. It offers us also an opportunity to give shape and form to what it means to follow of Christ. Under which circumstances (professional) labour is necessary is something that shall be determined in Christian liberty. Such consideration shall take place by listening to God’s Word, with prayer for wisdom and asking for advice. Isaiah 58:13 can serve here as a practical directive and basis.
The danger of regular Sunday labour is that one loses the rhythm of Sunday-rest, that one does not have the energy to attend even one worship service and that you isolate yourself from congregational life. This makes a life of prayer even more necessary in order to render dedication to the Lord of life, who is at the same time the Lord of his congregation. It is also good that the congregation supports those who have to work. This is possible through prayer and personal interaction with one another. In determining the hours of worship, consideration should be given to those times when members of the congregation who have to work are most able to attend.
Sunday labour simply for increased financial return, is to be rejected, as is all love of money (1 Tim. 6:9). “No-one can serve two masters. You cannot serve both God and Money.” So says Jesus our Lord (Mt. 6:24).
The law of the LORD is the guideline of thankfulness for the redemption we have in Christ. The fourth commandment helps us – in labour and rest – to experience the sanctification of our whole life. The Holy Spirit fills the congregation as a temple. There sinners receive the power to live to God’s honour all the days of the week.
Christ redeemed the Sabbath from human laws which place a burden on the day of rest. Developing a pattern of Sunday-sanctification requires creativity: to discover what is the good and acceptable and perfect will of God. (Rom. 12:2). It requires love so that we can be a hand and a foot to one another.
In judging one another and speaking about one another it is good to use a ‘lifestyle of patience and mercy’. It is not just the outer marks of Sunday labour which are determinative. One must judge the motives when it comes to Sunday labour. In this context the following words of the Lord Jesus are beneficial: “If you had known what these words mean, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the innocent. For the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath” (Mt. 12:7-8).
In the training in faith it is important to develop a personal and shared lifestyle. Household rules can assist us in finding rest and peace on the day of the Lord. Household rules are agreements among adults in which clarity is given concerning choices with respect to a lifestyle relevant to the celebration of the Sunday (e.g., homework, media, types of recreation). The freedom which the Spirit wishes to work in our hearts may not be put under pressure by our busyness. At the same time God has given the day of rest for the enjoyment of leisure and recreation. Household rules are agreements which are taught to children as a way of personally giving form to Sunday rest. Thus the younger generation can learn how to give shape to Sunday rest in a responsible way.
Another aspect of celebrating the Sunday is to lay aside all trust in ourselves and our own work. Only Christ is able to redeem us from the slavery of the curse and from the power of sin. Repentance from dead works is a turning to the living God.
A powerless and joyless celebration of the Sunday has to do with a life of little faith which fails to find its power in Christ as Lord. However, a living faith in Christ, the Living One, will lead to a fervent and joyous celebration of the day of his resurrection.
Focusing on the accomplished work of Christ and on the renewing power of the Spirit has implications for the day of rest. It implies that we do everything that promotes a joyous celebration of the day of the Lord and that we refrain from doing those things which break this down.
Society has become estranged from the Sunday as the day of rest. The Sunday as the day of the church is primarily a matter within the boundaries of the congregation and its homes. The congregation of Jesus Christ shall seek ways and means to reach out to its neighbours and to invite them to taste something of this real rest. To those who come to faith in Christ and desire to join our congregation, we are happy to tell why this day is so valuable to us and why we celebrate the Sunday with so much joy (cf. 2.15).