Outside our local ‘Strict’ Baptist Church a large white noticeboard declares: ‘Lord’s Day: 11 am Morning Service; 6.30 pm Evening Service’. What, I wonder, do passers-by make of the expression ‘The Lord’s Day’? Sadly I think that for many it is just religious ‘gobble-de-gook’. For me, it is a reminder of the old ‘Lord’s Day Observance Society’, a Christian protest group which to all intents and purposes equated the Christian Sunday with the Jewish Sabbath and effectively promoted a form of life-denying ‘Sabbatarianism’. Those were the days when good Christian children only drew pictures of the Lord Jesus on a Sunday!
Today the expression ‘the Lord’s Day’ sounds frightfully old-fashioned. Yet for the first Christians it was a revolutionary term, for by using that term they were laying claim to the first day of the week (Mark 16.2; 1 Cor 16.2) as ‘the Lord’s Day’, the day when God raised Jesus from the dead. In early Christian thinking the Lordship of Jesus and the resurrection from the dead were synonymous (see Rom 10.9), so that when those first Christians Jesus met together to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus, they were celebrating the lordship of Jesus over all (see Phil 2.9-11).
In the New Testament the expression ‘the Lord’s Day’ is only found in the Book of Revelation. John, who had been exiled to Patmos, introduced his visions with the words: “I was in the spirit on the Lord’s Day” (Rev 1.10). In the underlying Greek the word ‘Lord’s’ is an adjective (kuriakos) which is derived from the noun kurios, (‘lord’) and means ‘belonging to the lord’. Paul uses the same adjective in 1 Cor 11.20 where he speaks of ‘the Lord’s Supper’: i.e. the meal which ‘belongs to the Lord’ or which is ‘in honour of’ the Lord –a reminder that at the Table we do not just remember a crucified Saviour, we also encounter a risen Lord.
In the Roman empire the word kurios (lord) was used of ‘Lord’ Caesar. However, although the adjective kuriakos was used of Caesar’s finances (the lord’s finances), of his treasury (the lord’s treasury), and of his service (the lord’s service), it was never used of a particular day of the week or month. The Lord’s Day is a Christian expression, which very quickly became the Christian name for the first day in the week. So, for instance, in the earliest Christian catechism called the Didache we read: “on the day which is the Lord’s Day gather together for the breaking of the loaf and giving thanks” (14.1).
In the English speaking world we have reverted to what was initially an ancient Egyptian custom of calling the first day of the week ‘the day of the Sun’. But in many other languages Sunday is still the Lord’s Day: so in modern Greek the word for Sunday is kuriake; while in the Romance languages of Europe Sunday as dimanche for the French, domenica for the Italians and domingo for the Spanish – which are all derived from the Latin dies Dominca i.e. ‘the Lord’s day’. As for the Russians, Sunday is Voskreseniye – Resurrection!
Although I recognise that there is no way in which we can wind the clock back, I think that we English-speaking Christians are the poorer for no longer speaking of Sunday as the Lord’s Day. In the first place, in many places Sunday worship has lost its note of celebration, for people have forgotten that this is the day of resurrection, with the result that hymns of resurrection are confined to Easter Day. In the second place, for many people Sunday worship lost the priority it once had, for people have forgotten that this is the day that belongs to the Lord, with the result that more and more Christians attend church just every second week, every third week, or even every fourth week. We need to find a way of rediscovering and then restating that Sunday is indeed the Lord’s Day.
[Editor’s note: Apologies for sending the email out twice last week – that oversight should now be fixed.]