Have you ever wondered why Christians worship on Sunday?
Recently I have been taking a seminary class on the history of Christian worship, and I came across some interesting information the other day about the history of Christian worship on Sundays.
The most common assumption is that Christians worship on Sunday because that is the day that Jesus rose from the dead. And that is correct. But there is more to it than that.
For the early Christians, Sunday become known as “the Lord’s Day” – references to which are made in the New Testament. However, it is worth noting that in the places Christians lived in those early centuries, including the Roman Empire, Sunday was a work day. So it became common for Christians to gather early on Sunday mornings, before work, to share in communion, teaching and worship – communion being seen as an essential element of the gathering, one which they would never consider neglecting (an important factor when considering what we do on Sunday mornings in churches today).
It was only in the time of Emperor Constantine, that Sunday became a day of rest, when Constantine (before his “conversion” to Christianity) declared that the “venerable day of the Sun” should be a day of rest for all people in the empire. Interestingly, in Germanic languages, including English, we have retained some of the pagan names for the days of the week, from Roman times: Sunday (Sun), Monday (Moon), Saturday (Saturn). However, in romance languages, the name of Sunday reflects the Christian understanding of “the Lord’s Day”, e.g. “Domenica” in Italian.
Another common assumption is that the Christians chose Sunday as the day of worship because it was the day on which Jesus rose from the dead, and it was their alternative Sabbath – their new “day of rest”.
The true story is actually even more interesting. Early Christians considered it of great significance that Jesus rose on a Sunday, and they carried this understanding and significance into their practice of worshiping on Sundays. The Jewish understanding of the week is that each day corresponds to a day of Creation, and the reason they rest on Saturday is because it is the Seventh Day, the day on which God rested from His labor, and instructed us to do the same. Sunday, in the Jewish mind, is the first day of the week and corresponds to the first day of creation, the day on which God brought light out of the darkness. For the Jews, there was an understanding of the week as a closed circuit, if you will.
In Jewish apocalyptic writing, there is a book called the Book of Enoch, in which a concept is introduced called “The Eighth Day”. The Eighth Day is the day of the Messiah – when the Messiah comes and He inaugurates a NEW DAY – the Eighth Day – the first day of a NEW CREATION.
Early Christian fathers wrote about this concept of the Eighth Day several times in the early centuries, and they considered Sunday worship as representing this idea of the Eighth Day – that Jesus Christ rose from the dead on a Sunday – the day after the Seventh Day – and by his resurrection he inaugurated the Eighth Day, and now we worship on the Eighth Day – the day of new creation, as Jesus in His resurrection was the first-born of the new creation (1 Cor 15). This is the day on which Jesus broke us out of the closed circuit that we have been living in of the first creation, and inaugurated a new day – the Eighth Day – the day of the new creation.