Sunday, April 5, 2015

For Sunday

   Easter Sunday of the Resurrection of the Lord   

I gave up a number of things this Lent—
all things I’ve given up before:
eating dessert, snacking between meals, drinking alcohol.
None of those gave me any real trouble.
But I also gave up coffee.
I’d noticed myself getting more and more caffeine dependant,
and I didn’t think that was a very healthy thing,
so I figured it best to nip it in the bud.
I allowed myself one cup a week—my Sunday coffee.
This did not go so well.
In fact, one Sunday after lunch,
I made myself a café latte so large
it had the whole pot—nearly six shots—of espresso in it!
(I’m lucky I’ve ever been able to fall asleep since.)
Many an afternoon, as my energy began to fade,
I found myself longing for the taste of that hot bean beverage.
I even caught myself saying,
“I’m just dying to have a cup of coffee!”

But, wait a minute…dying?  For coffee?
I know it’s just a figure of speech, but it begs the question:
What would you die for?

On February 12, 304,
31 men and 18 women were arrested in Abitina,
a village in north Africa.
Their crime?  Illegal assembly.
They had gathered for Mass on Sunday.
Not quite a year before,
the emperor had issued an edict which—among other things—
forbade Christians from coming together to worship.
The penalty was death.
When interrogated at their trial as to why they’d violated the decree,
several members of the group spoke up.
“We must celebrate the Lord’s Day,” one said. 
“It’s a law for us!”
Another responded, “As if a man could be a Christian
without keeping the Lord’s Day!
Just as there can be no Sunday without Christians,
so there can be no Christians without Sunday.”
And when the owner of the house where Mass had been offered
was questioned as to why he hadn’t prevented it,
he replied, “Impossible! 
We cannot live without the Eucharist! 
We cannot live without the Lord’s Day!”

These 49 Christians knew what they would die for—
and they did: they were all martyred.
They would die for Sunday.

The first book of the Bible tells us
that, on the seventh day, God rested.
Creating the universe is obviously hard work!
Observing this weekly day of rest—
enshrined as the third commandment—
was to be a distinguishing mark of God’s chosen people.
The Lord had freed them with a mighty arm from slavery in Egypt;
he didn’t want them living or acting like slaves ever again.

As we’ve recalled once more during this Paschal Triduum:
on the seventh day, Jesus also rested,
lying quite quiet and still in a borrowed tomb.
Redeeming the world is hard work, too—
deadly work, as a matter of fact.
And so we find God yet again taking a sabbath rest.

When the sabbath was over…
…very early on the first day of the week, they came to the tomb.
From that first Easter,
Christians have kept Sunday sacred.
Because it’s the first day of the week,
Sunday recalls the first creation—
when God made the heavens and the earth;
but Sunday, if you will, is also the eighth day:
the day marking the new creation
ushered in by Christ’s Resurrection—
the day of new beginnings, of new and everlasting life.
You might say that every Sunday is a little Easter:
not a day of colored eggs, chocolate bunnies, and frilly hats,
but the day consecrated by Jesus when he rose from the grave.
Better yet, instead of thinking of Sunday as a little Easter,
we ought to think of Easter as the greatest of Sundays.

Like the sabbath of the first covenant,
the Lord’s Day was to be a distinguishing mark of Christians.
And for many centuries, it was.
(Just ask those 49 martyrs of Abitina!)
People used to have their “Sunday best”:
special clothes to be worn only on that special day.
In many places, the law of the land
protected Sunday worship and rest by restricting business.
We even still speak of “Sunday drivers” on the road,
who apparently have no reason to be rushing along.
But gradually, Sunday is becoming more and more like any other day.
Most everybody shops or takes care of their chores.
Many adults work just like they do on the other six days.
And while kids may not have school to attend,
they’re often equally busy with sports, whether practice or games.
The uniqueness of Sunday has gotten lost in “the weekend”—
not a day belonging to the Lord, but a “free” day.
It’s getting to be that you can’t distinguish Sunday…
…and you can’t distinguish Christians.

My friends,
the Resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead
in the wee hours of a Sunday morning—
the mystery into which you and I were baptized—
changes everything.
Or, at least, it’s supposed to.
Can we allow it to influence how we spend our time?
To rearrange our calendar and our priorities?
What would you die for?
Would you die for that day
which belongs to the one who died for you?
Better yet: What do you live for?
Will you live solely for him who rose
that you might have life and have it more abundantly—
not a life enslaved to the world, the flesh, or the devil,
but a life of true freedom,
a life that finds its rest and refreshment in him?

No lie:
I’m very much looking forward to my Easter Sunday coffee…
…and probably some on Easter Monday, 
Tuesday, and Wednesday, too!
But I wouldn’t die for it, and I wouldn’t die without it.
But like those saintly martyrs from north Africa,
it would be impossible for me to live without the Eucharist,
to live without the Lord’s Day.
There can be no Sunday without Christians;
there can be no Christians without Sunday.
This indeed is the day the Lord has made;
let us rejoice and be glad in it.

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