Friday, September 11, 2009

Sunday Worship as Sabbath-Keeping

Even though I still think there are good reasons to not refer to Sunday as the Sabbath, the following thoughts on what constitutes Christian holiness and politics in light of the commandment to "remember the sabbath day and keep it holy" are worth pondering.

In our Sunday worship Christians serve the world by showing the world that God has not left us alone and that we have good work to do. In its Greek derivation, liturgy means ‘the work of the people.’ Worship is the work God does with us to show the world a manner of life that could not be known had not God vindicated Jesus.

Sabbath keeping is a defense against the exploitative, purely pragmatic, and ruthlessly utilitarian tendencies of the world. Like the Jubilee year in which Israel was to free slaves and land, so the Sabbath ought to be our time to enjoy one another.

The Christian Sabbath … is when Christians perform one of our most radical, countercultural, peculiarly defining acts – we simply refuse to show up for work. It is how we put the world in its place. It is how we take over the world’s time and help to make it God’s time. It is how we get over our amnesia and recover our memory of how we got here, who we are, and in whose service we are called.

We need to take time to separate ourselves from the world’s disorder so that the world might see true order.

Political holiness is not simply obeying this or that law. Christian politics is constituted by the worship of the true God found in Jesus Christ. It is politics that assumes we have all the time in the world, eternity, in a world of deep injustice and pain, to take time to worship. In an unjust world, we either want anxiously to take time into our hands and right the wrong on our terms or, worse, to acquiesce to the injustice, giving it sovereignty, assuming that God cannot or will not work in time to do a new thing. Sunday worship is thus a radical protest from the world’s time, a time when we literally take time to rejoice that in Jesus Christ God has made our time his own.

Stanley M. Hauerwas & William H. Willimon, The Truth About God:
The Ten Commandments in Christian Life (1999).


BillyD said...

Seems I remember reading that the earliest Christians did show up for work on Sunday, hence the need (partly) for those pre-dawn Eucharists. And I'd be willing to bet that most Christians do not have the middle class liberty to choose their own work schedules that Dr. Hauerwas assumes.

I'm honestly torn about the Sunday as Sabbath idea. On the one hand, my mother was raised in a household where all manual labor - including cooking and washing dishes - ceased on Sunday, and I have experience with traditional Jewish Shabbat observance, too. I understand how that can make the day different. I'm just not sure of its place in Christianity.

And I wonder if Dr. Hauweras ever takes his family out to eat, or to the movies, or to play miniature golf, on the "Christian Sabbath." Or if he ever runs out to the supermarket on Sunday for a last minute purchase before Sunday dinner, or gasses up the car before a Sunday drive in the country? If Sunday really is the Christian Sabbath, then it seems we ought to not be creating market circumstances that will cause other Christians to have to work to serve us.

Bryan Owen said...

Good counterpoints, BillyD. Too bad we can't ask Hauerwas directly. No doubt, it would initiate a most lively conversation.

Rolin said...

Long before Moses received the Ten Commandments as the Law for Israel, God blessed the Seventh Day and made it holy. One can argue that the Sabbath commandment does not apply to Christians, but one cannot say that God has ever un-blessed the Seventh Day.

I find a Friday night Bible study or prayer meeting to be a good way to honor the Seventh Day.

Revd John P Richardson said...

For what it's worth, I think Christian Sabbatarians (and I think Hauerwas is falling into that category at this point) lack a developed biblical theology, beginning from Genesis 2 and finishing in Colossians 2 (or thereabouts).

I suspect it is also part of the American cultural heritage.