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Vol. 81 - No. 7
July 2010

WORD FROM THE PASTOR:             

Thursday’s Child

St. Paul’s has Thursday evening services during the summer. Is that...okay? Is it legitimate to have a worship service that isn’t on a Sunday? One might ask the same question about our Saturday services–but at least Saturday evening is arguably part of Sunday ("there was evening and there was morning, one day," Genesis 1:5 says in narrating the creation, indicating that the day begins with evening). Thursday clearly is a different day from Sunday. So why do we have a summertime service on Thursday?

Let me begin my answer by telling a story: The church where I served my vicarage (seminary internship) built a new facility a few years after I left. The church is small, so they decided to do a lot of the work themselves to save money. Thus, most of the work on the church was done on weekends. They labored all day Saturday...and Sunday afternoon. In that vicinity, the dominant Christian denomination is one that emphasizes Sabbath keeping. They believe that all the Old Testament rules that applied to the Sabbath now apply to Sunday–such as, "Six days you shall labor and do all your work; but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord our God; in it you shall not do any work" (Exodus 20:9-10). (My father-in-law was raised in this denomination and would never even cut his grass on Sunday). So when folks who belonged to this dominant denomination saw the Lutherans building a church on the Sabbath–working on the Sabbath–they were horrified! What kind of Christians were these Lutherans, so flagrantly violating God’s commandment?

But the Lutheran tradition looks at the Sabbath differently from many other Christians. That difference can be seen in Blessed Martin Luther’s explanation of the Third Commandment in the Small Catechism. The commandment in Scripture says, "Honor the Sabbath day, to keep it holy" (Exodus 3:28). And Luther explains the commandment by saying this:

We should fear and love God, and so we should not despise His Word and the

preaching of the same, but deem it holy and gladly hear and learn it.

Luther’s explanation of the commandment emphasizes hearing the Word of God. Notice what Luther does not say. He does not mention a specific day–Saturday (the Old Testament Sabbath day), or Sunday or any other day. Nor does he say anything about working or not working. For Luther, the commandment is about hearing God’s word proclaimed.

Lutheranism has a view of the Sabbath that, at first, seems radical–that the Old Testament law about keeping a specific day, and not working on that day, has been abolished with the coming of Jesus. In the Large Catechism, Luther says: "According to its literal, outward sense, this commandment does not concern us Christians." It is still absolutely imperative to hear God’s word and to worship–but honoring a particular day by not working is an imperative that has passed away. 

Actually, in the 19th century, some American Lutherans–living in a country that emphasized Sabbath-keeping–became seriously uncomfortable with this Lutheran teaching and tried to change it to bring it more into line with Protestant beliefs. But their attempt failed–because in Lutheranism, all teaching must come from the Bible. And radical as it may seem, the Lutheran belief is solidly based on Scripture.

Jesus healed on the Sabbath even when the person’s condition was not immediately life-threatening (Mark 3:1-6; John 9:14-16).; His disciples picked grain on the Sabbath when they were hungry. (Mark 2:23-28).. Christ took a great deal of criticism for these things; but He reminded His critics: The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. (Mark 2:27). What Jesus implied, St. Paul makes crystal clear:

One man esteems one day as better than another, while another man esteems all

days alike. Let every one be fully convinced in his own mind. (Romans 14:5)

Therefore let no one pass judgement on you in questions of food and drink

or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a sabbath. These are only a

shadow of what is to come; but the substance belongs to Christ. (Colossians

3:16-17)

Scripture says that the Sabbath is like the animal sacrifices and the prohibition against eating pork–laws that were given by God to prepare the way for Jesus, but were lifted after His coming.

But hasn’t the Sabbath simply been moved to Sunday? Sunday is certainly a special day–it’s the day when God began His creative work, the day when He said, "Let there be light." It’s the day when Jesus rose again from the dead, thereby bringing about a New Creation. It is, according to Scripture, "the Lord’s day" (Revelation 1:10) But special as Sunday, is, there are no New Testament passages that say: "The Sabbath has now been changed to Sunday". The way Lutherans see it, Christians are not commanded to worship on any specific day of the week. For us, "Honor the Sabbath" means "worship God and listen to His Word". We are certainly commanded to worship, but the church has the freedom to set any day for services. That’s why we can have services on Thursday, and they "count" just as much as a Sunday service does.

Ultimately, all days are holy. "This is the day that the Lord has made–let us rejoice and be glad in it" (Psalm 118:24) can be said on any morning to welcome the new day God has given us. "Now is the day of salvation" (II Corinthians 6:2) can refer to any day when God touches our

lives. Certainly we can be blessed by God’s Word and Sacrament on a Thursday as much as on a Sunday!

So if you can’t come to church on a Sunday during the summer, by all means come on Thursday or Saturday. The day on the calendar really doesn’t matter–what really matters is hearing the saving Word about Jesus Christ, the crucified and risen Lord!

God loves you and so do I!

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