One of the most striking things about the rise of Christianity within its Jewish origins is the fact that the Sabbath moved from the 7th day (Saturday) to the 1st day (Sunday). We know why this happened – Jesus was resurrected on the 1st day of the week, but sometimes we wonder how this happened.
In conversation some time ago, Becca told me that she thought there was mention of this switch in the New Testament, but couldn’t remember where. I searched for a while, but found nothing. But just this morning, my lectionary took me into Acts 20, and behold…
On the first day of the week we came together to break bread. Paul spoke to the people and, because he intended to leave the next day, kept on talking until midnight.
No, it’s not a command, and no, Acts is not necessarily a case study in ‘what church ought to look like,’ but at least we do have a description of what was going on. And by this point (57 AD), Christians were already gravitating toward Sunday corporate worship rather than the former Saturday corporate worship.
Both a theological and a sociological lesson can be gleaned from this switch: theologically it sheds a new light on the definition and purpose of the Sabbath. In Jewish culture in Jesus’ time, the Sabbath was this inviolable thing which many people treated legalistically. Many of Jesus’ parables and teachings addressed this misuse of the Sabbath, and can be summed up in his words “man was not made for the Sabbath, but the Sabbath for man.” Theologically, this brought us back to the understanding that the Sabbath is not something that we serve as a master or law over us, but something that we need for our own benefit… the why is more important than the how. Sociologically it highlights the serious cultural power of the Christian movement – overturning such a fundamental Jewish identity marker makes it clear that Christianity was not just some little cult rising up, but a very significant thing indeed!