SUNDAY – THE DAY OF THE NEW CREATION
The different names used to describe the day of the resurrection, do not just tell us how the gospel has been received and adapted to the different cultures of Antiquity. The name-giving also reflects a deepened insight into the mystery of Christ by showing us how the primitive church lived the new life of salvation. The message of the empty tomb is connected with occurrences on a certain day, the first day of the week. Furthermore, a meal is the context of the appearances of the Lord to his disciples. Each Gospel introduces the meal in its own way (Mark.16:2,9,14, Luke 24:30,35; John 20:1,19,26).
St. John’s Gospel tells us that the Last Supper took place before the Passover meal and that Jesus died on the day when the Passover lambs were sacrificed. In this way we are told that Jesus’ death brought the ancient Passover sacrifice to fulfillment and his appearance at the meals shows him as the Lord (20:28). In St. Luke’s Gospel, however, the Last Supper is presented as a Christian Passover meal and the effects of the new supper will only be fully realised in the heavenly banquet (22:7f,18).
As to the resurrection story, both St. John and St. Luke seem to reflect St. Mark’s account of the empty tomb. The Lord rose from the dead on “the first day of the week” according to the Jewish calendar (Mark 16:2). On this basis, a worship pattern is established. Because Christ rose from the dead on the day after the Sabbath, his followers regularly met on the first day of the week to celebrate together a eucharistic meal (John. 20:26).
In the same manner, St. Paul takes for granted that Christians will meet every first day of the week for a meal he calls “the breaking of the bread” (1 Cor 16:2, Acts 20:7). This expression refers to a gesture connected with a short prayer at the beginning of the Jewish family meal. Also the wording “the first day of the week” is taken from the Jewish calendar. This gives reason to assume that the Jewish-Christian community celebrated the Eucharist after the conclusion of the Sabbath when the new day began on Saturday evening.
At the same time, we find another way of dating the gathering. It has a specific Christian name, when the meal is said to take place on “the Lord’s day” (Apoc 1:10). In Didaché, which is a very old Judeo-Christian manual, the faithful are told to meet on the “Lord’s day, break the bread and celebrate the Eucharist” (14:1) This change of name for the celebration of the Eucharist probably originated in a community familiar with Greek culture. Unlike the Jews, the Greeks reckoned a day went from dawn to dawn and they would celebrate the meal in the morning with the coming of the new day. This liberation from the evening meal would then make it possible to integrate the meal in Roman planetary week calendar. We read in Justin Martyr’s Apologia I about the Christian assembly: “We come together on the day of the sun, for this is the day which God, drawing matter from darkness, created the world” (67). The day of the Sun is, of course, our Sunday.
Despite the new naming, the day of the celebration of the Christian Sunday remains the first day of the week as in the Jewish calendar. Still, the evolution of the terms reflects a deepened understanding of the importance of the empty tomb. The expression “Day of the Lord” is really equivalent to “Christ’s day”. Using this term, different Church Fathers make it clear that, as the first day of the week, the Lord’s Day is much more than the anniversary of the creation of the world. If the Sabbath was the end of the first creation, The Lord’s Day is the beginning of something greater. The resurrection of Christ restored the world by giving us the first-fruits of the new Creation. Thus the world of creation, symbolised by the seven days, is just a preliminary stage in the plan of God. As the day of the new creation, Sunday is the eighth day of the week, an image of the age to come. Thus the “Day of the Lord” prefigures our eternal rest.