By: Reverend Howard Wheeler, Pastor of Pottsville ARP Church and Mission Developer of River City Reformed
The Lord’s Day is a Feast Day, never a Fast Day! That has always been Christendom’s creed. Even when long, protracted penitential fasts were the fashion of Medieval Christianity, the Lord’s Day was always excluded from the fast. The Lord’s Day is to be a day of celebration, joy, and fellowship. It is not the day for downcast faces or despair. Any solemnity that marks the day is due to sheer awe for the graciousness of a Holy God of whom “mercy is His proper work.” Any sorrow sown by conviction of sin is wiped away by the forgiveness and cleansing which are ours in Christ. The Lord’s Day is a Feast Day, never a Fast Day!
Our forefathers were apt to call the Lord’s Day, “the Market Day of the Soul.” It was not a day for buying and selling the commodities of temporal life, but a day to traffic in the commerce of higher things, better things – eternal things. While our lives today blur the distinctions between the Lord’s Day and every other day, we are most blessed and at rest when we “remember the Lord’s Day and set it apart.” The Lord’s Day is not like every other day. Quite the contrary it is unlike any other day. When the Lord was creating the world, He rested from His work, not just on the first day after he finished, but He finished by creating the seventh day – actively making it and setting it aside to celebrate, rejoice, and fellowship with His creation.
Thus, the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them. And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done. So, God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation. Genesis 2:1-2
Is the Lord’s Day a feast day for you? Is it the Market Day of your Soul? Is it unlike any other day? Or has it become like any and every other day to you? Is it distinguished by the pursuit and enjoyment of the things that really matter, that last forever? Or only the pursuit of more of the same things that won’t last? Doubtless, for most of us, the week is the unit of time that most defines our lives, yet it is the only unit of time not defined by some celestial or environmental cycle. It has no exemplar in nature. It is simply given to us by God and delineated for us by the Lord’s Day. Whether you observe it or not, your life revolves around the Lord’s Day.
When Christians lose delight in enjoying the “thousand sacred sweets” of the Lord’s Day, life begins to lose its savor in every other area as well. Just as the Lord’s Table defines how we live at every other table in our lives, the Lord’s Day defines how we will live every other day. The Lord’s Day, with its corporate worship, fellowship, feasting, resting and serving is the heartbeat of the Christian life. It is one of two positive commands in the Ten Commandments. It comes with great promise. Jesus reminds us that “man was not made for the Sabbath, but the Sabbath for man.” The Lord’s Day is a Feast Day and never a Fast Day. It is the Market Day of the Soul.
The prophet Jeremiah took great pains to make expose the deeply ingrained sin in the people of Judah. By the time we get to the end of Jeremiah 17, we have heard the prophet call the people to repentance for their perpetual idolatry, their self-serving greed, their heartless oppression, and their continual refusal to heed the call of God to return. So, it seems a little surprising that Jeremiah makes so much of calling them to repent of contempt for the Lord’s Day. With so many dire issues on the table, is this not a bit of straining a gnat and swallowing a camel? Yet this thinking shows that we have not rightly understood that the Lord’s Day stands at the center of our Christian life.
Unfortunately, too often our discussions regarding the Lord’s Day devolve into what we cannot do, rather than we can do. The Reformed Church is often subdivided by straining the gnats of Sabbath restriction while swallowing the camel of joyless, loveless, drudgerous Sabbath observance. The prophet Isaiah frames this concern well.
“If you turn back your foot from the Sabbath,
from doing your pleasure on my holy day,
and call the Sabbath a delight
and the holy day of the Lord honorable;
if you honor it, not going your own ways,
or seeking your own pleasure, or talking idly;
then you shall take delight in the Lord,
and I will make you ride on the heights of the earth;
I will feed you with the heritage of Jacob your father,
for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.” Isaiah 58:13-14
Is your attitude toward the Lord’s Day one of dread or delight? To delight in the Lord’s Day is to take delight in the Lord of the Day. As we contemplate the right use of the day, we would do well to ask ourselves, “is the Sabbath a delight?” Or do we grumble our way through it with a confessional precision that amounts to little more than a “trampling of [God’s] courts?” When we learn to call the Lord’s Day a delight, most questions of “what’s off the table” are quickly crowded out by the joyful feast of worship, fellowship, and rest set on the table before us. May it be true of us that the Lord’s Day is a Feast Day, never a Fast Day!