I want to share something I’ve learnt recently about Sunday morning worship and the Sabbath, as well as how it relates to our Singaporean work week context.
“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth… And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light… And there was evening, and there was morning—the first day… Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule…” So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them… And there was evening, and there was morning—the sixth day… By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done.” – Genesis 1:1-2:2
So today I want to unpack these 3 concepts: New Creation, Current Creation and the Sabbath.
Part 1: New Creation
“Made for spirituality, we wallow in introspection. Made for joy, we settle for pleasure. Made for justice, we clamor for vengeance. Made for relationship, we insist on our own way. Made for beauty, we are satisfied with sentiment. But new creation has already begun. The sun has begun to rise. Christians are called to leave behind, in the tomb of Jesus Christ, all that belongs to the brokenness and incompleteness of the present world … That, quite simply, is what it means to be Christian: to follow Jesus Christ into the new world, God’s new world, which he has thrown open before us.” – Rt Rev N.T. Wright
The early Christians by mid 200s AD had developed a tradition of having city-wide Eucharistic worship on the morning of the 8th day, yes, 8th day; that was how the early Church saw the Eucharist, as the begining of a new age. The gospel centres on the concept of ‘New Creation’, the old order of the world has been vanquished by the cross, where the law was the strength of sin, where people persecute each other in show of hypocritical self righteousness based on their innate sense of justice. By the Cross, the world was made new and that new world begins in a meal.
“When [Jesus] wanted to explain what his forthcoming death was all about, he didn’t give a theory. He didn’t give them a set of scriptural texts. He gave them a meal.” – Rt Rev N.T. Wright
“You are those who have stood by me in my trials. And I confer on you a kingdom, just as my Father conferred one on me, so that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom and sit on thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.” – Luke 22:28-30
We see that the Eucharist here dramatises the future hope of having the meal with Christ the King at the start of his manifest eternal Kingdom. Where people who were once enemies come together in peace to nourish themselves on the Word of God, literally in the Liturgy of the Word and Dramatically in the Liturgy of the Eucharist. This was never meant to replace the Sabbath, how can it? The 8th day is the day after the last day of the week, the first day in a new age; so for the symbolism to work, the 7th day has to remain a day of rest as stated in Genesis.
The Eucharist is also traditionally celebrated in the Morning, and for good reason, since it is the start of the new age, it has to follow the rising of first light as in Genesis. The first day was the day where God said “Let there be light”, when the Word of God himself created the light of a new age. The Sunday Service is also, therefore, the begining of the work week; much like the Morning Assembly we had in school that started our day of work. I think that is a concept we have lost in Western Christianity, the idea that the Mass (Dismissal), or Divine Service to Protestants, is meant to energise and commission the Christian community into the world to work for the Kingdom; it is the dismissal from the Sabbath. Over the centuraries we have instead used it as like a replacement for Sabbath rest or just a retreat from real life to focus on God, when we forget that the whole week is an act of worship that should begin with the Eucharist. Why the Eucharist? Because you are what you eat, the ultimate symbol of of New Creation is the build your own body with the Body and Blood of Christ.
Part 2: Current Creation
The Islamic faith holds their weekly worship, the Jummah, at the middle of the fifth day, or Sabbath eve; the day that mankind was created. Islam fundementally differs from Christianity in their belief of human nature, and that is the only permamant difference. While Christians preach New Creation, when the depravity of sin is take away from us and we are glorified in God’s full image, Muslims preach Restoration, where they look to their inner selves that carry the full image of God in the current state of creation. So while Christians, who believe that mankind is inherently evil, looks to the future and a new age, Muslimin, who believe that mankind is inherently good, looks to the past to find themselves in God. The Jummah is thus the celebration of the completion of creation, the begining of the Sabbath, and the Mass/Divine Service is the celebration of the completion of new creation, the end of the Sabbath.
The Mosques are empty and plain, allowing the congregation to focus on itself and look inward to find God, while Churches are filled with decorations that mirror the age to come, from scripture verses to depictions of Biblical stories that push the Christian to look outside himself and forward to his blessed hope in glory. These things are very specific to the Soteriology of each of the religions and it is good to know why they are set up in such a way.
Part 3: The Sabbath
Now I have fluctuated between many different Sabbath practices and now I would like to go through some history on how these different stances came about, this would also apply to the Muslims and Jews who share our understanding of the Sabbath.
The Sabbath started off being universally practiced by the early church. However, in light of legalistic Jewish Sabbath onservances, as well as Amillennial beliefs that the current age is the manifestation of the Kingdom, the then Imperial Catholic Church (including modern Roman Catholic, Protestants and Eastern Orthodox) had developed a doctrine of the Sabbath being a the state of the current age rather than one day a week, and it largely stuck.
“[The Christian] will not be commanded to leave idle one day of rest, who is constantly keeping Sabbath.” – Iranaeus
In the East, the Ethiopian Tewahedo Orthodox Church, founded by Jewish congregations had also restored the Saturday Sabbath and added Sunday as a second Sabbath, to incorporate Sunday Divine Services.
However, back in the West, as the Ten Commandments became more and more important in the Church, the Papacy had then moved the Christian Sabbath from Saturday to Sunday, to coincide with Sunday morning worship. This was a tradition carried on and further enforced by Protestant groups such as the Methodists.
Soon after, other Protestant groups started to restore the practice of Saturday Sabbath, such as the Seventh-Day Adventists, instead of the Sunday one, and moved Sunday morning divine services to Saturday morning ones; a copy paste of Methodist practice, but just on a different day. With the rise of Messianic Judaism, Christian Hebrew Roots and Hebraic Roots congregations, the practice of both Saturday Sabbath and Services have become more common too.
To me, I feel like the apostolic practice of Saturday Sabbaths and Sunday Morning Worship has never been effectively restored, though many groups have tried. Personally, I’ve gone from the position of No Sabbath, to Sunday Sabbath, to Saturday Sabbath and Service, and now finally to Saturday Sabbath and Sunday Morning Service.
I think that it is a really wasted opportunity, because the Saturday Sabbath is something we can agree on with the Muslims here in Singapore, and can be a joint time for family and community building. It also wouldnt affect the times that we worship, like Friday afternoon or Sunday morning, so its more of a cultural rather than institutional change. Ideally we have a weekend that starts from 12pm on Friday to 12pm on Sunday and that would literally make all religions happy, but a relic of our Western Christian colonial past has left us with the current work week of monday to saturday morning work and a one and a half day rest, now developed to something more like a 5 day work week instead.
I know in Singapore we have this Epicurean understanding of a God who is far away, that we maybe meet in a Church-Mosque once a week if we feel like it, but I think worship starts from the home, and nowhere is that more possible than in Sabbath keeping culture. Fathers have to be there at home to teach there children to find God not just in a church or mosque but in the family that loves and surrounds them, either begining with the Jummah or ending with the Mass/Divine Service; then maybe the awareness and fear of God will come back to our little red dot.
That’s about all I have to say about this for now.