If You Like Weekends, Give Thanks for Jews and Christians

Many people live for the weekends.  They might love their jobs or simply tolerate them, but they look forward to the weekends like no other time.  Weekends give them the chance to sleep late, hang out with friends and family, pursue hobbies, and, for those religiously inclined, worship.  weekend

The terms “workweek” (in Britain “working week”) and “weekend” refer to the parts of the week associated with labor and rest respectively.  The five day workweek has come about primarily in the west under the influence of Christianity and Judaism.  In many countries—especially where Islam is the dominant faith–the workweek includes Saturday and/or Sunday (e.g., Afghanistan, Algeria, Bangaladesh, Egypt, India, Iran, Israel, Malaysia) because Friday is their day devoted to prayers and time off work.  The French Revolutionary calendar attempted to reform the way citizens lived in time by adopting a ten day week and giving them one day out of ten as a day for leisure.  Obviously, that never caught on.

The days of the workweek are popularly described in relation to the weekend.  “Rainy Days and Mondays” got Karen Carpenter down, probably because the weekend seemed so far away.  Wednesday is hump day (we’re halfway there). And of course, there is TGIF (Thank God It’s Friday) Fridays. 

The term “weekend” is actually a misnomer because Sunday has traditionally been understood  in the west as the first day of the week.  Take a look at most (non-business) calendars and you will see Sunday the first day on the left.  Perhaps in an attempt to reconfigure time and our relationship to it, modern business calendars start with Monday on the left and end with Sunday on the right.  The idea of the week beginning on the day we call Sunday and ending on Saturday is derived from Jewish sensibilities.

You see the seven day week goes back to biblical story of creation (Genesis 1:1—2:3).  In the west we operate with four main categories of time: year, month, day, week.  A year represents the time it takes the earth to orbit around the sun.  A month represents (at least initially) the lunar orbit around the earth.  A day represents the time it takes the earth to rotate on its axis.  So where did the idea of a week come from?  Essentially, from Genesis.  While a year, month, and day relate to astronomical observance, the idea of a week is related completely to religious observance.  The Jewish Sabbath set the rhythm of the cycle of work and rest not only for them but for much of the world.

According to Genesis, God created for six days, rested the seventh, and required his covenant people to do the same (Genesis 1). Here is how the directive is stated in the first account of the Ten Commandments:  

You and your family are to remember the Sabbath day; set it apart, and keep it holy.  You have six days to do all your work, but the seventh day is to be different; it is the Sabbath to the Eternal your God.  Keep it holy by no doing any work—not you, your sons, your daughters, your male and female servants, your livestock, or any outsiders living among you. For the Eternal made the heavens above, the earth below, the seas, and all the creatures in them in six days.  Then, on the seventh day, He rested.  That is why He blessed the Sabbath Day and made it sacred. (Exodus 20:8-11, The Voice)

So the Jews are to remember the Sabbath Day, keep it holy by doing no work on it, why?  Because it is an imitation of God’s creative and restful activity.   The Sabbath is the seventh day or what we call Saturday. 

The first Christians were Jews so they observed the Sabbath, but it wasn’t long before they added another day of religious observance to their week.  “The Lord’s Day,” as they called it initially, was a weekly celebration of Jesus’ resurrection and the times he appeared to the disciples.  Christians met in anticipation that Jesus would be with them as two or three gathered.  They met to sing hymns, pray and commemorate his life, death, and resurrection in a sacred meal known as the Eucharist (Greek for “giving thanks).  Later the reading of Scripture and what we call today the sermon were added to their gatherings. weekend 2

Through history the relationship of Saturday and Sunday has been complicated.  Entire books are dedicated to parsing carefully how Jews and Christians lived in connection with time and each other. I have written more about this in two articles if you’re interested: “The Eighth Day” and “The Lord’s Day.”

The bottom-line is this: if you like the weekends, give thanks for Jews and Christians.  They have done more to keep alive these traditions than any others.  The idea of the weekend is not created out of nothing.  This modern blessing owes its substance to the Jewish and Christian faiths.  It has a noteworthy history that goes back to a mountain in the Sinai desert and a tomb outside Jerusalem.

Easter: The ‘Big Bang’ of the New Creation

 I’m still thinking about Easter.  I know.  Easter is already past; I should be on to something else now.  But frankly, Easter is just one of those days that takes time to process.  When you think of it, Easter is more than a day; it’s a season.  Truth be told, every Sunday is “a little Easter” as we gather together to celebrate the risen Lord.big bang

As I was thinking about Easter, I also had reason recently to refer students in my New Testament class at HBU to 2 Corinthians 5:17.  This is an amazing passage about the new creation.   As anyone knows who is familiar with Greek and biblical theology, Paul’s language here is a notoriously hard to translate.  We struggled with that passage in The Voice.

Here is how we rendered it:

Therefore, if anyone is united with the Anointed, that person is a new creation.  The old life is gone—and see—a new life has begun!

The language of new creation is not original with Paul.  It goes back to the message of Isaiah who looked beyond his own day to a time when God will do something new and amazing in this good—but now disordered—world he had made.  What he will do, according to Isaiah, will be so astounding the only language to describe it is the language of “new creation” (Isaiah 65:17-25).  In John’s Apocalypse it is described this way (Revelation 21:1):

I looked again and could hardly believe my eyes. Everything above me was new. Everything below me was new.  Everything around me was new because the heaven and earth that had been had passed away, and the sea was gone, completely.

When we turn to the New Testament, we discover that the new creation has in fact already begun.  It began on that first Easter when the dead body of Jesus—composed as we are of carbon, hydrogen, and other elements—is suddenly and miraculously transformed into a new kind of body, a resurrected body.  In that moment a piece of the old order became new.  In that moment a piece of the earth—because we like Adam are all made of dust—became eternal.  Easter is “the Big Bang” of the New Creation.

No one was there to observe it, but no one can deny that in that moment everything changed.  As the risen Jesus appeared to one after another, the beleaguered and defeated disciples become powerful witnesses to the greatest miracle in history.  The church—which began small like a mustard seed—started to grow at an amazing pace and in a few decades stood to challenge the power of Rome.  If Jesus is Lord, they thought, then Caesar certainly is not.

Today the empire and her leaders are long gone.  Only fractured monuments to her greatness remain.  But the Church Jesus established is not only present; it has filled the earth.  To borrow a line from one of Jesus’ parables: the birds of the air are making their nests in it.

Paul wants the Corinthians to know that those who are united with Jesus through the ritual cleansing of baptism have entered into that new creation.  Their old lives are put away.  Their new lives have begun.  But the Lord’s emissary does not claim that they are new creations in and of themselves.  They are made new only in relation to the One who was crucified, buried, and raised to new life.  They are made new in that very first Easter.  In a sense they were there on the cross and in that tomb, already united with him.  Paul’s point is personal, but it is more than individual.  Every person who turns to Jesus is not only new creation, he or she enters into a community of individuals graced to be full participants in that new creation which began that first Easter.