Christianity is a faith deeply rooted in time. Most Christian traditions observe different “seasons” in their liturgy each year: Advent, Lent, Ordinary Time, feast days celebrating the lives of ancient Christians. Christ himself came to us in time, not as a disembodied, eternal message from heaven. Time was an essential aspect of the incarnation, the embodiment, of Jesus. Described in the Gospel of John as the “logos”—the ancient Greek word for “word”—he came as a human being with flesh and bones who aged and experienced aging, and of course death, not as an abstract philosophical “principle” like the logos of the ancient Stoics. Jesus had to actually bleed and die within time, as a finite person, or else we could not be reconciled to God.
An acknowledgement of time in our worship allows Christians to keep in mind this temporality of our Savior. But temporality is significant to who we are as humans, not just as Christians. Observation of seasons and cycles is a vital part of any culture, whether religious or secular. When Rome first transitioned to Christianity, one of the first things the early church dealt with was renaming pagan holidays, transforming those days that were already sacred and elevating them for God instead. Christmas was likely set on December 25th to be around the Saturnalia, the Roman celebration in honor of Saturn, the sun god. Interestingly, though much of the world observes Sunday as a day of rest, our names for days of the week still give away their Nordic pagan origins: Thursday is “Thor’s day,” Wednesday “Odin’s day.” In pre-modern times, humans were much more dependent on these natural cycles. In the absence of alarm clocks, the sun told us when to rise. The weather and constellations told us when to plant, or harvest.
Summer, too, is part of one of those cycles recognized by most in our culture, Christian and non-Christian alike. However, though not always borne out in practice, Christians are called to distinguish themselves from non-Christians in nearly every area of their lives. The Christian relates to his money different from a non-Christian friend: he tithes (in whatever amount) to the poor and needy. The Christian has always maintained a much higher sexual ethic than the surrounding culture. The American Christian celebrates Independence Day along with other Americans, but cannot “pledge allegiance” to his nation above all else; that position is reserved for God alone.
For our culture, summer is usually a time of rest. Since as Christians we exist within time, within a particular culture, we should not seek to flout this occasion. Yet, Christians must also operate on a larger-scale timeline, an eternal one, in which there is also “a season for everything…a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted…a time to weep, and a time to laugh” (Ecclesiastes 3). In this eternal timeline, for us it is currently the Day of Preparation.
In Jewish law, prescribed by God Himself in the Old Testament, the Day of Preparation was the day of the week right before the Day of Rest, the Sabbath. On the Day of Preparation, the Jews had to work in double-time to prepare food and get the rest of their household in order for the next day, since they were not allowed to labor on the Sabbath. This curious practice was meant to reflect for the Israelites God’s act of Creation, when he worked for six days, and rested on the seventh.
In the book of Hebrews, we are told that God has prepared a time of rest—an eternal one—for those who follow His ways. This is the new heavens and new earth, which God will recreate for His people, where God Himself will walk in personal fellowship with us. The apostle Paul puts this glorious future in terms of a “finish line” towards which we should always be striving, “running the race” prepared for us with excellence and endurance, maximizing the varying abilities to run that God has given us (1 Corinthians 9). Thus, this time of rest in the future implies a time of work today.
By parallel to the Jewish tradition, Christians currently live in an extended “Day of Preparation,” readying ourselves and our world for Christ’s second coming, in which he will measure all things by their alignment with Him. As Hebrews calls us, “Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience [unbelief]” (Hebrews 4:11).
There is a sense in which this promise of rest is already upon us. Having died once and for all for the sins of His people, Christ has removed the obstacle imposed by sin on our communion with God. But the exhortation from Hebrews is a call to avoid a lukewarm approach to eternity. Not everyone we encounter has yet achieved this eternal rest—a sobering thought—and it is our responsibility to change that.
However, the striving to which Paul calls us with his analogy of a race is different from the kind most Americans exhibit. Godly ambition seeks to run the race for a purpose outside of itself. As summer comes to an end, and our schedules begin to fill up again, it is essential to recall the eternal timetable on which Christians must live, in addition to our earthly one. Christ will give us the grace to work in preparation of His coming, even when those around us relax, so that one day we may rest easy in God’s care, able to proclaim, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (2 Timothy 4:7).
Bryce McDonald ’21 is a junior in Leverett House studying Classics and Philosophy.