“But the angel said to the women, ‘Do not be afraid; for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for he has risen, as he said” (See Matthew 28:1-10, RSV).
Can you even imagine the emotional roller-coaster the first followers of Jesus must have ridden as they tried to understand the empty tomb! Had the women gone to the wrong tomb? Had the body been stolen? Were they all awakening from a bad dream? Was this some cruel trick being played upon them? The angel who speaks in Matthew’s account of the resurrection gently reminds those at the tomb on that first great “getting-up morning” that what has happened is just “as he said”. Jesus had tried to teach his followers what would happen (the crucifixion) and what the ultimate outcome would be (the grave could not hold him). They had missed the point – resisting the idea of crucifixion for the one they saw as their Savior, and discounting the idea that one who died could “come back”. Sadly, but happily, they were wrong on both counts! The events of the first “Easter Sunday” were soon recognized as life-changing. A seminary professor and author whom I greatly admire has observed that many in our generation now describe September 11, 2001 (9-11) as a day that “changed the world”. With great sensitivity and perspective he gently seeks to remind us that the resurrection of Jesus is really “the day that changed the world”. The disciples themselves had to learn that truth, and perhaps we are still struggling to learn it.
While the very first “church members” began almost immediately to observe “the first day of the week” as their day of worship and celebration, in 325 A.D. the Council of Nicea formally set aside a special day to commemorate the resurrection. Their first discussions centered around whether the celebration should be a specific date (like Christmas) or a specific day – always on Sunday. The decision, obviously, was to reflect what the first Christians had already begun to practice. Easter Sunday was established based upon the first Sunday after the first full moon after the spring equinox.
Today we sometimes hear Sunday referred to as “the Sabbath”. Of course, technically, that is not correct. Sabbath is the Hebrew word for both “seventh” and “rest”. In the Jewish faith, Sabbath is the weekly holy day – a time when Jewish people also remember God’s rest after his work of creation. However, Christian practice evolved to endow Sunday with several meanings. First and foremost – Sunday has been and remains a reminder of the resurrection. Yet, we also recognize its significance as a day of worship and a day of “rest” (at least theoretically). Perhaps the idea of a two day week-end in our cultural developed as an attempt to combine the need for rest and the need for worship. Regardless, Sunday is about more than “going to church”. It’s about the risen Savior who calls us to salvation and discipleship, who desires our communion, and who seeks to live with us still.
Dr. Faught is Pastor of The LaFollette United Methodist Church.