Time and Faith

July 3rd, 2014

The Missed Day

Can you imagine missing a day, moving from Thursday to Saturday without experiencing any of Friday? The people of Samoa not only can imagine it, they have done it. At the end of 2011, Samoans skipped a day: Friday, December 30. They went to sleep the evening of Thursday, December 29, and woke up the morning of Saturday, December 31.

The Pacific island nation is near the International Dateline. In 1892, Samoa decided to be on the east side of the line in order to align its day with trading partners in the United States and Europe. For years Samoans reveled in living in the last place to enjoy a sunset on any given day. But times changed, and the nation decided to move to the west side of the International Dateline, again for economic reasons. “Our trading partners have dramatically changed, and today we do a lot more business with New Zealand and Australia, China and Pacific Rim countries such as Singapore,” said Samoan prime minister Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi.

Before the change to the west side of the line, Samoan businesses were losing out on two working days in dealing with Australia and New Zealand. “While it’s Friday here it’s Saturday in New Zealand, and when we’re at church on Sunday they’re already conducting business in Sydney and Brisbane,” the prime minister said before the dateline switch. The only way for Samoa to make the switch from the east side to the west side of the dateline was to skip an entire day on the calendar.

The Beginning of Time

Genesis 1:1-5 describes the first moments of Creation, “when God began to create the heavens and the earth,” and also the very first day: “God named the light Day and the darkness Night. There was evening and there was morning: the first day.” Genesis reflects the traditional Hebrew understanding that a day stretches from sundown to sundown. Indeed, a day is the period of time it takes the Earth to spin on its axis, which makes it look like the sun is rising and setting.

Genesis also records the first week. While a day is based on the spinning of the Earth and a year is the amount of time it takes for the Earth to move around the sun, a seven-day week has no basis in the movement of the Earth, the moon, or the sun. According to Genesis, the week was ordained by God. “On the sixth day God completed all the work that he had done, and on the seventh day God rested from all the work that he had done. God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all the work of creation” (2:2-3).


One of the laws in the Ten Commandments says that the seventh day is to be holy, or set apart. The Exodus account of God giving Moses the commandments states, “Remember the Sabbath day and treat it as holy. Six days you may work and do all your tasks, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. Do not do any work on it—not you, your sons or daughters, your male or female servants, your animals, or the immigrant who is living with you” (20:8-10). In Exodus, the reason given for the Sabbath is because God rested on the seventh day after making the heavens and the earth; in Deuteronomy’s account of the commandments, the Hebrews are to keep the Sabbath and remember the injustice of slavery in Egypt when they had no days off (5:12-15).

The ancient Hebrew practice of keeping time with a day of rest on every seventh day is profound. The Sabbath is a weekly reminder that God created the heavens and the earth in love. The Sabbath is a regular remembrance that God freed the Hebrews from slavery in Egypt and desires all people to be free. The Sabbath is a day set aside for God. And the Sabbath is a statement of social justice, reminding us that life is more than work and that all––including servants, foreigners, and animals–– are to have a time of renewal, rest, and refreshment.

We know that Jesus observed the Sabbath and had a custom of going to synagogue on the seventh day (Luke 4:16). Yet Jesus also healed on the Sabbath, a practice that got him in serious trouble with religious leaders. Jesus argued that while Sabbath observance is important, we are to do good all the time, even on the Sabbath. After all, the Sabbath was made for people; people were not made for the Sabbath (Mark 2:27).

After Jesus’ death and resurrection, his followers began a new custom of gathering for worship, not on Saturday, the seventh day of the week, but on Sunday, the first day of the week. Jesus was raised from death to new life, so every Sunday became a celebration of Easter.

In our day, it is also easy to forget the Sabbath. Stores and other businesses are open seven days a week; some are open 24 hours every day. Workers are scheduled to work, often without regard to their desire for Sabbath observance. Sports leagues, including some children’s leagues, have games and meets all weekend, making participation in the life of a congregation difficult.

Our son joined a swim team when he was six. Most of the swim meets are on Saturdays, but each year several are scheduled for Sunday mornings. We have elected to have him miss those Sunday morning meets so we can worship. So far, his coaches have been understanding. But as he gets older and the meets become more competitive, will there be pressure on us to skip our Sunday worship?

The Christian Calendar

David Henson, a blogger and candidate for the priesthood in the Episcopal Church, understands that the Christian Year is more than a diversion; it can be revolutionary. “In our society, our calendars have been molded into seasons of consumerism, each bleeding into the next without pause,” Henson writes. He notes that stores move right from discounting Christmas merchandise to stocking merchandise for Valentine’s Day, then St. Patrick’s Day, Easter, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, the Fourth of July, back-to-school sales, Halloween, then back to Christmas. “Our civil, consumer calendar offers us no break in the buying season, no chance to reflect, to pause, to celebrate, to truly linger over a feast,” Henson continues. “How quickly did many of us take down our Christmas trees? How quickly did we pack up the Nativity?”

Henson asserts that if we fail to actively resist society’s method of marking time with an alternative, “we will quite easily be caught up in its seductive current.” He argues that the Christian Year provides such an alternative way to keep time. This faith-based calendar does not move quickly from one occasion of buying to another. Instead, the Christian Year progresses from one significant season to the next.

There are two great cycles of the Christian Year: Advent-Christmas-Epiphany and Lent-Easter-Pentecost. Both cycles begin with times of spiritual preparation: the four weeks of Advent and the 40 days of Lent. Both continue past the central feast day, with the 12 days of Christmas and the 50 days of Easter, allowing time for reflection on the significance of each cycle. Instead of rushing on to get ready for the next celebration with a fresh round of buying, we can pause to reflect on the meaning of Christ’s incarnation during the nearly two weeks of the Christmas season and of his death and resurrection during the seven weeks of the Easter season. Henson writes that the Christian Year “protests the notion that our months are billing cycles, our weeks meted out in paychecks rather than in meals with our families, memories with our friends, worship with our faith communities.”

The Christian way of marking time—with keeping the Sabbath holy and the rhythm of the Christian Year—provides an alternative to the pattern of the world around us. Christian timekeeping calls us to live with faith and hope, in season and out of season, today, tomorrow, and till the end of time.

This article is part of FaithLink, a weekly downloadable discussion guide for classes and small groups. FaithLink motivates Christians to consider their personal views on important contemporary issues, and it also encourages them to act on their beliefs. The complete study guide accompanying this article can be purchased here.

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