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Sunday Mornin’ Comin’ Down

“For there’s something in a Sunday / that makes a body feel alone, / On the sleeping city sidewalk, / Sunday Mornin’ Comin’ Down”. Kris Kristofferson – Rhodes Scholar and sometime traditional Anglican – wrote these words in a song made famous in 1969 by Ray Stevens, and later by Johnny Cash, in a 1970 live performance at the Ryman Auditorium. In my home growing up, you could hear the plangent tones of this Nashville lament in Kristofferson’s own version, crackling from an old LP on Sunday mornings. This was to the smells of brewing coffee and frying bacon, after we had returned from church, which we attended every Sunday at home or on vacation. Sunday mornin’ hadn’t come down until we’d gone to church.

This is doubtless a bit of sanctimonious, domestic cultural nostalgia on my part. I fear my father had to unwind to Kristofferson to calm his jangled nerves from the battle it took to get us up and to church – especially against his youngest – me! In the South of the 60’s where and when the song was written, there was already something in a Sunday, that made a body feel alone. Sunday as a day of family and communal worship and rest, was already the haunted relic of a memory of a culture where work, buying, spending and atomistic individualism ceased for a day in the week, and the common worship of God not mammon was the first order of that day. For all who profess and call themselves Christians – including faithful Anglicans – it is not, as its practically assumed, ‘a matter of private convenience, whether,’ he or she, ‘…should stand by his fellow Christians in Sunday worship’ (Austin Farrer).

In the Bible, Sunday has its roots in creation and salvation history. God ‘blessed the Sabbath day,’ Saturday, ‘…and declared it holy’ (Exodus 20. 11). Why? Because on the Sabbath day the people of God remember God’s rest on the seventh day after creation, and recall Israel’s liberation from Egyptian bondage and the sacrifice with which God sealed his people. Jesus accepted and divinely interpreted the holiness of the Sabbath: ‘The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath’ (Mark 2.27). The Sabbath became Sunday for Christians because of Jesus’ Resurrection. Every Sunday is a little Easter. As ‘the first day of the week’ (Mark 16.2) Sunday – the ‘day of the Sun [Son]’ –  recalls the first creation. As the ‘eighth day’ of the week, Sunday anticipates the new creation, already inaugurated by the Cross and Resurrection of Christ. For Christians then Sunday is, every week, ‘the first of all days and of all feasts’. Sunday is ‘the Lord’s day’ (Revelation 1.10) in which Jesus fulfilled his Passover from sin and death and ushered in the spiritual meaning of the Jewish Sabbath, man’s eternal reconciliation and rest in God.

Thus for Christians, every Sunday is the principal day in which the Word of creation and redemption is proclaimed, heard by faith, contemplated in the renewal of our intellects and bodies in the spiritual sacrifice of penance, praise and thanksgiving; the Christian Passover – the Eucharist – is celebrated and Holy Communion given to those who are shriven and disposed to take and receive it. On Sundays Christians are called and commanded to abstain from such activity and inactivity that gets in the way of the communal worship of God and detracts from the joy, relaxation of mind and body, and the social charity toward family and the disadvantaged, that are proper to the Day of the Lord.

It has been said that if there were no Sunday in the week, inscribed as it is on our hearts as a ‘reminder of our origin and destiny’ (John Paul II) – we would have to invent it. But nothing less than the Christian week, crowned by Sunday – no “prekend” or weekend – can really give shape to or direct all our ceaseless activities of work or leisure, anchoring our existence, time, and identity as it does, in our beginning and end; in our human liberation and destiny in the death and resurrection of Christ.

There is much good in modernity and what inarticulately characterizes us as globalized moderns – rational self-certainty, global and historical consciousness, self-awareness, technology and human expertise. And there is much that is self-deceptive in the anti- or post-modern stance taken by many putatively conservative contemporary Christians – religion as irrational ideology and cultural eclecticism and arbitrariness. However, we are also inheritors of the downside of modernity – forgetful pragmatism, the internalized individualism of self-determination and self-realization; of individual right as might in what we assume to be our irreducible and unexamined entitlements in the areas of time, money, power and sex. Nowhere is this deep and unconscious imbibement of this age’s forgetfulness more apparent than in our investments in time and public gestures of identity and belonging.  For instance, we think nothing of setting priorities, planning, earmarking precious time and resources for the public observances of national holidays, of concerts, travel, sporting events and quasi-secular voluntary associations, while treating Sunday worship in the Christian community as a matter of casual, will we or won’t we, incidental, occasional personal convenience.

The fantastic and unaccountable explosion and growth of the emerging Christian Church in the Greco-Roman world, was distinguished by the clarity of what Christians counterculturally believed, corporately embodied and evinced in the fellowship they shared in time, above all every Sunday (Acts 3.42; Rom. 12.5).  On the Christian Sunday we don’t find an external constraint upon or inhibition of human freedom or flourishing, but a potent and corrective reminder of our common destiny in Christ, and a life and time enriching rehearsal for the “social joys” of heaven (the words found in the original English version of ‘Jerusalem the Golden’). What a united witness to the age and the community around us, to visiting family and friends; what a testament to faith, hope, charity and spiritual vitality; what a meaningful and critical cultural legacy to our young adults and children it would be if each of us took to heart the summons and requirements of Sunday, the Day of the Lord, in the non-negotiable assistance at the liturgy every Sunday we are here (Tybee included!) and in other faithful outposts of the faith (your priests are happy to help you in this) while we travel.

Sunday mornin’ – the Lord’s Day – was  hallowed for us and it’s comin’ down. Let us see to it that we put all the prioritizing and ingenuity at our disposal to spend it faithfully, to our own lives and that of our parish’s rest and renewal in the Son of Man, the Lord of the Sabbath. CO’B