This secular ordering of time stands historically in stark contrast to a distinctively Christian temporal organization. Sunday morning was marked as the dawn of what Christians called the kyriakē, the Lord’s Day. As Patristic scholar Alexander Schmemann has observed, the Lord’s Day was understood by the early church in relation to the Jewish Sabbath, or Seventh Day (our Saturday), the day of rest. The Sabbath (Saturday) commemorates the creation of the world and the rest God took having made everything ‘very good.’ However, Sunday, the morning of Christ’s resurrection from the dead, represents the Messianic fulfillment of the new creation. This is the day which the Jewish imagination designated as the ‘Eighth Day,’ the day of redemption from the cosmic tyranny of sin and death.
Thus, as David Clayton points out, the very time we worship, Sunday, is simultaneously the first day of the new seven-day week and the eighth day that has liberated us from the previous week. Sunday is not merely a day of recreation in relation to a work week; rather, Sunday is the day of recreation, the very day by which all days are ordered and understood. It is the day of resurrection. It is the day for gathering together and corporately realizing and manifesting the reality of Christ’s redemption into which the entire cosmos has been incorporated.
Again, the important point here is that such a day is set apart by what we do during this time period. When Christians across the globe gather together in song, sermon, and sacrament, they sanctify socially Sunday morning as a witness to the world that Christ is risen and that God’s inextinguishable love has in fact poured out into our world.
But what happens when contemporary Christians forego such worship, and instead compete in athletic events scheduled during this time? What do such practices reveal? When we participate in sporting events on Sunday morning rather than church, we are in fact reducing Christian corporate worship to the activities of recreational life. Such a practice perpetuates inadvertently the notion that our worship life, which is supposed to be the foundation of the Christian week, is in fact merely one of innumerable recreational options scheduled in accordance with a secular conception of time.
But if our temporal practices change our perception of reality, then there are very real consequences for this: we cannot relativize Christian worship without relativizing Christian truth. We can’t relativize the church without relativizing the truth it proclaims. Indeed, such competitive practice does little more than affirm the secular notion that church is just another weekend option, nothing more.
To be clear, I am not advocating Eric Liddell’s Sabbatarianism. He was theologically convicted of how one was to keep the Sabbath day. I, on other hand, am concerned by the social and cultural ramifications of Christian families choosing competitive sports over church services, since such a choice, no matter how well-intentioned, cannot but shape adversely their perception of the order of a meaningful reality. And that reality is being defined inexorably in distinctively secular terms.
And so, I believe it is time for the church en masse to say: no more sports on Sunday mornings! If Protestant, Catholic, and Orthodox sports programs come together and form their own leagues, I don’t see how this is even remotely an impossibility. And as such sporting events revolve around a distinctively Christian conception of time, they will in turn become social spaces that foster the kind of Christian community for which our secular age is craving.
Eric Liddell had known about the 100 meters race scheduled for Sunday several months before the Summer Olympic Games. Having made his decision to withdraw, he trained instead for the 400 meters race. Unfortunately, he consistently turned in subpar times. And so, when the day of the 400 meters finally arrived – July 11, 1924 – he was not expected to win. As he stepped toward the starting blocks, a trainer from the American Olympic Team, inspired by Eric’s faithfulness, handed him a piece of paper that read: “It says in the Old Book: He that honors me I will honor” (1 Samuel 2:30). With paper folded in hand, Eric ran the 400 meters race.
His time was 47.6 seconds, a new world record.
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 David Clayton, “The Path to Heaven is a Triple Helix,” available at http://thewayofbeauty.org/2010/04/the-path-to-heaven-is-a-triple-helix/.