Sunday, March 15, 2009

The Lord's Day

On the Lord’s Day I was in the Spirit, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet.

                        Revelation 1.10

Alone Together

Torrents descended on Chicago last weekend and by Sunday morning, fierce gusts rose to create monsoon conditions. Flinching a bit at being “fair-weather Christians,” we decided to worship at home via the Web “alone together,” as Walt put it, he on his laptop in the living room and me here at my desk. We played no music. The TV stayed off. The only sounds were the moans of our high-rise rocking in the wind—it’s oddly comforting, like being aboard a huge ship—and irregular thunderclaps punctuating the rain-slap on our windows. I opened our church’s site to download the bulletin, but then I let go the mouse and sat for quite a while as the music of God’s power resounded outside. While Walt and I were apart, I realized neither of us was alone. God had made His presence irrevocably real. With no assistance from pipe organs and choirs, He drew us into His Spirit on the Lord’s Day.

Acknowledging God’s audible presence fired my eagerness to hear His voice. The sites I visited in the morning provided beneficial insights, but not until much later, when I dropped by John Shuck’s site and read his sermon, “Entering the Life”, did I realize what God wanted me to hear in the wind, rain, thunder, and silence. Nor was God’s flawlessly ironic timing lost on me. While I listened closely but heard nothing certain, He was speaking to me at that very hour as John preached from a Johnson City, Tennessee pulpit over 600 miles away. His message about keeping the Lord’s Day as a day of rest and reflection, based on the Jewish Shabbat, resonated deeply. It’s been with me all week. While I pray God one day endows me with wisdom and eloquence comparable to John’s, the inspiration I took from his sermon compels me to share a few thoughts about the Lord’s Day as well. (I encourage you to read “Entering the Life,” as today’s post comes as sort of companion piece to the message.)

Keeping Time

After reading John Shuck’s message, John the Revelator’s statement—“On the Lord’s Day I was in the Spirit”—echoed in my head. On balance, what we don’t know about this apocalyptic letter to seven Asian churches far outweighs all we say with certainty about it. The Revelation’s authorship, meaning, original purpose, and why it entered the canon are all highly (and hotly) debatable. Some believers view it as an anomaly its intended readers most likely understood but containing little meaning for us. Others pore over John’s vision phrase-by-phrase, sighting parallels in current events. Lack of context refutes neither reading, and it’s best left at that. But, personally, two things stand out to me: it came from John’s being “in the Spirit,” and confirms Christ’s power will ultimately prevail over the forces of darkness. If we never “break the code” of John’s vision, just those two points merit our attention.

The Revelation came during John's exile on the island of Patmos. Isolated from family and fellow believers, he endures a “sameness of days” in an open-ended sentence that makes the calendar useless. Yet stranded out of time, we find John keeping time to ensure he honors the Lord’s Day. As a Christian monotheist—like Jews and, later, Muslims—he devotes one day each week to rest and reflect, a precedent established by God, Who spent six days creating the world and rested on the seventh. For John, the Lord’s Day is not to be neglected or minimized as “another day.” It’s a standing appointment of utmost importance reserved for casting off anxieties to bask in God’s presence. It’s spent “in the Spirit,” where natural fears and doubts are supplanted by unnatural faith and hope. In the Spirit, daily reality loses its significance to far greater eternal reality, resetting our hearts and minds to listen for God.

The Voice Behind

While in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day, John hears a voice behind him. He turns to see a blinding vision of the living Christ instructing him to report everything he’s told to the Asian churches. John’s placing the voice behind him is extremely relevant to us, I think, because God often speaks to us from behind. Looking back, we find His presence behind consumes darkness in our past. As David sings in Psalm 23, goodness and love follow us every day we live. Yet, as with John, the voice behind only speaks of things to come, assuring us of God’s promises and protection as we walk into the future with Him. What we hear isn’t always comforting or even comprehensible. John receives a grotesque warning of extreme persecution Christians will face. Yet the voice behind us steels our confidence to move ahead. Knowing hardships await us, we trust God’s love and mercy to prevail, which is The Revelation's final truth.

Whatever else we seek and find in John's vision, it reveals the Lord’s Day as the pivotal day in every week, the moment we leave what's behind and look forward. How wise and caring of God to finish Creation with His example and command we set aside one day each week to rest in His presence. Sequestered from ordinary life, we hear His call from behind. We turn to discover He’s all we see. He seals our past. He illuminates our present. He addresses our future. And seven days later, He does it again.

The Lord's Day is the pivotal moment in every week when He calls us from behind and speaks of what's ahead.

(Tomorrow: Vanishing)

Postscript: Am I Crazy?

God has truly favored Straight-Friendly with a unique diversity of extraordinary believers. In the short time I’ve got to know you, I’ve come to admire your Christian commitment and treasure you as dear family in Christ. Yet as well as I know you “virtually,” I wish I also knew you personally, face-to-face. I’ve actually prayed about this and an answer seems to be gaining focus. Now is as good a time as any to toss it out and see what you think. (Drum roll, please.)

Is anyone interested in a S-F weekend retreat where we could share the Word and pray together, have fun, and get better acquainted? Or am I crazy? If the idea appeals to you, let me know via comment or email. I’m thinking six or more positive responses will be plenty to put together a survey about best times, locations, etc., before scouting possible dates and sites.

Call me a fool, but spending quality time with you amazing people is an idea I can’t resist—and a hope I pray will be realized!


Annette said...

I love the idea, and I'd show up!

Tim said...

Two of us so far... I'm feeling like we may get this idea off the ground!