God willing, I offer a set of short meditations this week – on the days of the week. In Orthodoxy each day has its own “dedication,” something which marks the day and its hymnody, etc. Some of those days are more obvious than others.
Perhaps the most obvious day of all is Sunday – the Day of Resurrection. This is the day of the central gathering of the community for worship and to receive Christ’s Body and Blood. It has been so since the beginning despite some recent deviations by uninformed founders of “denominations.” “On the first day of the week,” is the common phrase to be found in the New Testament to describe this day – or St. John’s “On the Lord’s Day,” in his wonderful Revelation.
We gather not to make something happen, but because something kept happening on this day as we gathered. The disciples would find themselves behind locked doors on “that” day only to have the Risen Lord suddenly appear in their midst and say, “Peace be to all.”
Sunday is the great day because it is the Sabbath beyond all Sabbaths. The Orthodox have never argued against Saturday as the Seventh day (Sabbath=Seven in Hebrew). Indeed, to this day the Orthodox treat Saturdays as different than other days.
But Sunday is different in a unique way. The Fathers of the Church called this the “Eighth Day,” meaning the day that had broken the endless cycle of sevens – the Sabbath cycle that marked the life of ancient Israel. This was a day that fulfilled those days and then went beyond into something more – something truly fulfilled. The first Sabbath is described in Genesis as marked by the Lord’s “resting.” Having created the universe, “He rested from all His labors.” Thus God hallowed the Seventh Day.
This cryptic saying (surely you don’t think God got tired and needed to lay down) makes no sense until it is fulfilled in Christ. In the life of Christ we see the first Saturday explained, for, having completed His labor among men, Christ says on the Cross, “It is complete (finished),” and He “gave up the ghost,” i.e. He died. This is God’s rest. Having truly completed the work of creation God “fell asleep,” as the New Testament describes those who have died.
And in His sleep (death), a spear was thrust into His side. Blood and water flowed from that side, and thus the Church, His Bride, was born. Blood and Water, Eucharist and Baptism, are the means by which the Church is birthed and nourished. God’s Great Sabbath was this sleep on the Cross when Creation was truly finished.
And as He slept the sleep of Death, so He harrowed Hell, trampling down death by death, and bringing light to those who had sat in darkness. On Sunday morning He broke the bonds of the captives and smashed the limitations of death, and rose victorious. How, given all of that, do Christians not press forward and celebrate as the Day of Days, that Day which has completed the Sabbath? We do not wait on Saturdays any longer for something to come. It has come and we will never be the same. And now, week after week, we gather in His name, marking that Day of Resurrection, and receive His Body and Blood.
As I noted early, the Orthodox continue to have great reverence for Saturdays, the Sabbath. We are the only Church in Christendom that refrains from celebrations of the Eucharist on Monday through Friday during Great Lent. But we do not fast from such celebrations on either Saturdays or Sundays. These days are different.
But having kept the type, it is far more than incorrect to ignore its fulfillment.
This is Sunday, the Day of Resurrection. Christ our Passover has been sacrificed for us, let us keep the feast.