I remember watching those “Back to the Future” movies growing up, and always getting lost in figuring out what would happen today if _____ happened or changed in the past. Or how cool it would be to know certain things about what would happen in the future (sporting events, investments, etc.) and be able to benefit from that knowledge. My love for time travel continued with my imagination, until more recently I was duped into reading “The Time Traveler’s Wife” even before it became a hit movie. I was well into the book before realizing how sappy it was getting, and I’ll just confess that yes, I enjoyed it.
So in my reading recently, I was caught by this notion of Sabbath as a sort of “time traveling”. I’ll try to explain.
In scripture, we see the people of God observing Sabbath on the 7th day. The day marking “completion”, the day that follows 6 days of work/activity. This is transformed when Jesus is resurrected on the first day of the week, and followers of Jesus began to gather not on the Sabbath, but on the “first day”. Eventually, as the movement became more and more defined by these “First Day” gatherings – Sabbath gradually became observed on that day also. There was never a “meeting” or a “council” that determined…it just happened as a community of people became increasingly centered on receiving all they were from Jesus and this “new thing” God was accomplishing.
But when we gather on Sunday, the “first day”, we aren’t simply gathering to “sing songs, learn Bible lessons, and share space together.” These are all good things, but they are all things that do not require the Spirit of God to take place. We gather to share in the liturgy, that is, the “work of the people” and declare Jesus as Lord in a trans-formative way. We gather as one community, celebrating the body of Christ we are being as we join together in the work of the Kingdom. But that Kingdom is not one of occupying space at this point, but of redeeming time. This Kingdom of God is of “The Age to Come”. Yet, when we participate in declaring the reign and rule of God – that Age breaks through into today.
It’s as if our gathering happens not only on the 1st day, but simultaneously the 8th day as well. A day that exists outside of our regular rotation of hours and days. That comes after what has happened, at the same time launching something utterly new each time it occurs. As Craig Keen writes, “Christ is raised not on the Sabbath, not on the last day of the week – but on a new day that exceeds the old order of a seven-day cycle. Resurrection joy irrupts as the dawning of an unprecedented first day – a first day that will not stand in competition with the old order, but penetrates it, saturates it, and folds it into the new.”
This also forces a dependence on the Spirit for what happens as we come together. As William Cavanaugh writes, “Because the church lives from the future, it is a thing that is not. The church inhabits a space and time which is never guaranteed by coercion or institutional weight, but must be constantly asked for, as gift of the Holy Spirit.”
If you’re a parent of a young person who gets geeked out about time travel, there are some cool potential conversations to be had there, for sure. If you’re like me, and have young kids who have a hard enough time understanding how “tonight” relates to “tomorrow”…..you may want to wait a few years….:)