Soon after my husband and I moved back to St. Louis from Philadelphia and rejoined Covenant Presbyterian Church, we got a call from a friend inviting us to join a new supper club that she and her husband were forming. After she described it to me, I asked when it would meet.
"On Sunday evenings," she replied.
"Do you mean you'll have it after the evening worship services?" I asked.
"Well, no, Mary Beth...you know, we're not under the Law anymore; we're under grace. You don't have to attend your Sunday evening worship service."
"Oh," I said, "I know I am free to miss it--but why would I want to? These are the people that have stood with me through the hardest times of my life. It's the most wonderful way to end the Lord's Day, being with them and worshiping together. Thank you for your gracious invitation--but we would just miss too much if we intentionally missed evening church once a month."
It was clear that my answer surprised my friend, but it impressed her, too. It piqued her interest to the point that she and her family visited our church for a while, just to see what caused me to love it and its people so much. (They continued to hunt for a church home and ended up in the church where she grew up--perhaps that's where she found her people as well.)
My answer also caused me to reflect on why attending Sunday evening worship is the habit of our lives. Even before we met, both my husband and I had the habit of regular Sunday evening worship attendance. So, when we married, it was only natural that the habit would continue, as it has to this day, 42 years later.
One reason why both of us attended evening worship as single young people was the fact that we were both relatively new Christians and had a hunger for learning the Bible and being with other believers. Both of us really liked our pastors (before we met we belonged to different churches in different denominations) and their preaching. Both of us had made good friends at our churches that we enjoyed being with during and after the evening services. I especially loved our elderly Scottish assistant pastor who led the hymn singing with passion and a heavy brogue! For both of our congregations, the evening service was simply an important part of the life of the community. And as typical singles, we liked being out and about with other people rather than being home alone.
After we got married, we received more teaching about the Sabbath principle of observing the Lord's Day. When George Robertson was preaching through the Psalms, he showed us how Psalm 92 refers to evening worship. The introduction to the psalm says "A psalm. A song. For the Sabbath day." And the first two verses say,
"It is good to praise the LORD and make music to your name, O Most High, to proclaim your love in the morning and your faithfulness at night, [italics mine] to the music of the ten-stringed lyre and the melody of the harp."
We learned that the principle of Sabbath rest goes back to creation. That is how the Lord explained it when He gave the fourth commandment to Moses in Exodus 20:8-11:
Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your manservant or maidservant, nor your animals, nor the alien within your gates. For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.
In the New Testament we learn that Jesus fulfills all of the Law for us, and He Himself is our Sabbath rest (Hebrews 4; Romans 5:19; Hebrews 5:8-10). We find the disciples, after His Sunday-morning resurrection, gathering on the first day of the week, "the Lord's day," or Sunday. So, as G. I Williamson explains, "it is the proportion alone--and not the order--that is fixed by the commandment."1 J. I Packer concurs: "The relation is just a new way of counting six-and-one, so that Lord's Day observance is the Christian form of Sabbath-keeping."2
Whether you call it the Sabbath or the Lord's Day, the day recurs weekly; it recognizes some sort of distinctiveness for one day in seven; it celebrates redemption in Christ and his resurrection, which is a fulfillment of the concept of rest embodied in the Sabbath; the one who is worshiped on the Lord's Day is the bringer of the truth of the Sabbath rest of salvation to which the Old Testament Sabbath pointed (John 5; Hebrews 3-4), prefiguring the future rest of the consummation; and includes the notion of worship and, finally, the concept of lordship.3
There is great freedom in how we choose to keep the day "holy" or set apart, yet we ignore observing it to our peril. God made us; He knows we need rest. And He has graciously provided the means that give us true restoration--including a day of rest set apart unto Him and for us--because we were created "to glorify God and enjoy Him forever" (WSC Q & A #1), which includes the here and now.
Countless lists can be found with suggestions about what should and should not be done on Sunday. A simple and helpful one comes from H. G. G. Herklots. Paraphrased, he says that the Lord's Day should be:
- A day of worship.
- A day of rest in the sense that Christians do not cause others to do unnecessary work for them.
- A day of real recreation, which by its changed occupation refreshes the mind and body and spirit "after divine service."
- A day when a Christian goes out of his way to help those who are in need.4
He sums it up this way: "For Christians, Sunday is the most important day of the week. A week without Sunday can be like a ship without a rudder. On the Lord's Day Christians come together into the presence of their Lord: it is here that the Christian family realizes its unity as at few other times. This does not happen automatically. Sunday must be remembered. But if it be also hallowed it may hallow all the week."5
On so many Sundays, such as one recently when assistant pastor Chris Smith gave a wonderful message during the evening service on Psalm 13, we drive away from the church saying, "Can you believe what we learned today?" And, "What better way could there be to end this day?" To be able to express prayer concerns and have them prayed for by the men and women of the congregation; to see a little hand go up during hymn requests and hear the child's voice say, "Number 100, please, 'Holy, Holy, Holy,' verses 1 and 4;" to hear God's word faithfully and thoughtfully preached; to sing new songs as well as familiar old hymns; to spend time afterwards talking with church family members--yes, I'm free to miss all that. But why would I?
If attending Sunday evening worship is not the habit of your life, I encourage you to give it a try--especially during the summer, without having to get your children up for school the next day. Train your children and your own hearts in the blessing of setting aside the whole of Sunday to the Lord, book-ending it by morning and evening worship. I don't think you'll be disappointed, and believe you will find it to be a very good thing.
1. G. I. Williamson, The Shorter Catechism for Study Classes, Vol. 2 (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 1970), 43.
2. J. I, Packer, The Ten Commandments (Appleford, England: Marcham Manor Press, n.d.), 6.
3. A. T. Lincoln, "From Sabbath to Lord's Day: A Biblical and Theological Investigation," ed. D. A. Carson (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1982), 398-400.
4. H.G.G. Herklots, The Ten Commandments and Modern Man (Fair Lawn, NJ: Essential Books, 1958), 81.
5. Ibid., 81-83.
Mary Beth McGreevy (M.M., UTSA; M. Div., Covenant Theological Seminary) has been an Adjunct Professor at Covenant Seminary for over 10 years and has taught piano in her home for over 40. She is the Interim Director of Women's Ministry at Covenant Presbyterian in St. Louis and a frequent speaker for women's retreats and conferences. She and her husband of 42 years, Bill, love to travel together.