Recently I was reading a Catholic author on prayer, Romano Guardini, “The Art of Praying”. As he was laying out the importance of having a routine for prayer, especially the “time for prayer”, he brought out what follows:
“Six days of the week are dedicated to work, one to rest. On working days man is bound by duty, on the seventh day he is free. ( . . . ) Sunday, therefore, is the day of God and, for this very reason the day of man. Its meaning has been largely forgotten. In our modern age it has become a day of vaguely festive character and ultimately merely an occasion for recreation and pleasure” (25).
I appreciated his observation and recognition. The Lord’s Day has fallen into the utilitarian trap of “what works for me” and so it has lost most of its vitality and meaning. It is only a matter of time before it is discarded all together. But if the Lord’s Day is primarily the Lord’s day, that changes things. Then it truly becomes the day of man, because “The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath. Therefore the Son of Man is also Lord of the Sabbath” (Mark 2.27-28). If the new Adam is Lord of the Day, then the day genuinely benefits man. But if man, without any reference to the Lord, is master of the Day, then man loses any benefit because the day simply is swallowed up in man’s self-centeredness.
To remedy this, Guardini recommended,
“Here is the task which concerns everyone: to reinstate Sunday earnestly, yet without narrow-mindedness or compulsion, as a day of homage to the Creator and Redeemer of the World and at the same time a day of rejoicing before the eyes of God. This is a task which must be tackled, not from without, but from within: by allowing the mind to dwell upon the mystery of this day and trying to comprehend how intimate are its links with our natural and spiritual life, by opening ourselves up to its beauty and asking what can be done to give it its proper place in our own lives and in the lives of our family. Then in accordance with the degree of our understanding, the appropriate effort must be made” (26).
Not only does the Lord’s Day benefit man in the here-and-now, but it draws us forward to the there-and-then, to the future. The Lord’s Day becomes a precursor of the Day of the Lord in which God’s people enter into, and enjoy the new heavens and new earth in which righteousness dwells (see Hebrews 4.1-11). The Heidelberg Catechism catches the here-and-now and the there-and-then when it answers the question “What does God require in the fourth commandment?”
“First, that the ministry of the gospel and the schools be maintained; and that I, especially on the Sabbath, that is, on the day of rest, diligently frequent the church of God, to hear his word, to use the sacraments, publicly to call upon the Lord, and contribute to the relief of the poor. Secondly, that all the days of my life I cease from my evil works, and yield myself to the Lord, to work by his Holy Spirit in me: and thus begin in this life the eternal Sabbath” (Q and A 103).
To observe the Lord’s Day will require real Christian commitment, and a fortitude to stand against whole social and familial systems that want to trivialize the Lord’s Day. To observe the Lord’s Day with joyful dedication is a first order act of true faith in a world that wants you to compromise, to go along to get along. Let us return to the Lord’s Day, by solidly turning to the Lord of the day!
Almighty God, who has given a day of rest to Your people, and, through Your Spirit in the Church, has consecrated the first day of the week to be a perpetual memorial of Your Son’s resurrection: Grant that we may so use that gift, that, refreshed and strengthened in soul and body, we may labor diligently for the incoming of Your kingdom in holiness and righteousness; through the same Your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen (adapted from, “Spend and Be Spent” [The Fellowship of Concerned Churchmen, nd], 62).