Last weekend my church started a Saturday worship service. We used to have two worship services on Sunday. Now we have one on Saturday, at 6pm, and one on Sunday, at 10am. I went for the Saturday service and gave it two thumbs up for various reasons.
First, it was great to begin the “Christian Sabbath” with corporate worship. Yes, purists, a Saturday service at 6pm is strictly Sunday service since the Jewish day begins at sundown. What better way to begin our commemoration of the Lord’s day then this rehearsal for heaven — assembling with the saints to worship our risen Lord.
What was even better was the next day, Sunday. No rushing off to go to Sunday school, Sunday worship etc. No rushing, period.
Life in Kuala Lumpur is like life in many big cities. It is defined by work and more work. We are perennially tired. And aware of life as lived perpetually at a frenetic pace.
Sunday is no different. Sundays are also experienced as days of frenetic activity. Sunday school, Sunday services, visitation, outreach games in the afternoon, and for some of us, evening services or some other evening church related activity. All ministry in His name of course.
The high human cost of perennial fatigue is well documented. It is ironic that how we use our day of “Sabbath rest” contributes to our state of being constantly tired. Is this God’s will?
There is a further danger of not experiencing our Lord’s Day as different and special. As my late ethics prof Dr Bockmuehl used to remind us, on our special day, we are allowed to “take off our harness.” It is a day of rest. It is a holy day.
The Lord’s day is also a foretaste of heaven. It is a reminder that a day will come when we will no longer have to wear the harness of work corrupted by sin. It is a reminder that a day will come when we will no longer have to wear the harness of fallen humanity. It points towards the Sabbath yet to come. (Hebrews 4:8.9)
One day in seven was set apart to be this living and regular reminder. And it could only serve as this special reminder if it was different from the other six days. The Sabbath experience was to be built into the rhythms of our lives as a constant beacon of hope.
This was so important that in the Old Testament, God required the death penalty for those who violated the Sabbath. This was so important that it was engraved into the Ten Commandments. It was that important. I fear we may have lost our way on this issue. (Numbers 15: 32-36; Exodus 20:8-11)
Scholars will remind us that in the New Testament, everyday is meant to be special. They will remind us that the resurrection of Christ has hallowed all our time and all our days. We now carry Sabbath in our hearts because we bear the Lord’s Spirit. And they are right. (Romans 14: 5,6; Colossians 2:16,17)
I don’t think the New Testament intended for the New Testament saint to practice Sabbath exactly as it is prescribed for the Old Testament saint. And the trail from Old Testament Sabbath to New Testament Lord’s Day is not all that clear. The theological development is tricky.
Yet I suspect that the Old testament rhythm of one day special and different in seven still has it uses precisely because so few of us remember the true source of our Sabbath in the Darwinian wasteland of the global economy.
We need help to remember that it won’t always be like this, that indeed there is a Sabbath yet to come. And that we already have a foretaste of that Sabbath because we have Christ in our lives.
In the busyness of today’s world we need this reminder and this beacon of hope more than ever. And a Saturday service that allows Sunday to be different would help.
Furthermore I could think of other practical advantages of having our worship services on Saturday evening. This frees up our Sundays for time with people. Imagine starting your Sunday slowly. Imagine setting up a leisurely lunch with friends and family. What a plus for relationships, something else that suffers as a result of the pace of modern life.
Sundays are also when most of our non-Christian friends are less rushed, and perhaps more receptive to the loving initiatives of God’s people. Imagine meeting up with non-Christian friends for lunch or tea. Well, if you are really serious about evangelism.
OK, I am sure there are a hundred practical problems with Saturdays evening services I haven’t considered. What if I have a wedding dinner or a company dinner on Saturday night? How do we do children’s ministry at that hour?
I don’t have all the answers. Hey, I don’t even have all the questions. But this really isn’t about Saturday worship services.
It is just my latest appeal to take a long hard look at how we structure our weeks so that we can regain some of the holy rhythm of work and rest, of ordinary and special. I have long feared that we have lost something fundamental and critical when we have neglected this rhythm. And our lives have become so much poorer.
Is Saturday evening worship services the answer? I don’t know. All I know is that we can’t keep on going the way we do. And claim to be those who have discovered abundant life.
Your brother, Soo-Inn Tan