“Blessed be the name of the Lord
from this time on and forevermore.
From the rising of the sun to its setting
the name of the Lord is to be praised.”
It seems to me that our culture has a very big problem, about which we have no idea what to do: time. It’s always escaping us, and for many of us the days seem to blur together. The contemporary world lives as if time doesn’t exist. We are constantly caught between rushing and relaxation, and it makes no difference to us what day or hour it is. (Time only seems to matter when we’re talking about deadlines and due dates!) Sundays, no longer days “set apart for the Lord” in our eyes, are being filled with more and more extracurricular activities, and electric light has allowed us to live divorced from the natural rhythm of creation.
But isn’t time more important than that? Doesn’t it matter that the Spirit descended on the day of Pentecost, or that Jesus rose on the first day of the week? The Christian tradition has always answered these questions with a resounding, “Yes!” As a part of the created order, time is included in the list of things redeemed by Christ’s work on the cross—and it is an invaluable element of Christian life and worship.
Let me offer an example. The day of Christ’s resurrection, or “the Lord’s day,” as it was often called in the early church, is an especially important day for the Christian community. That particular Sunday was not only the first day of the week, but also, in a way, the eighth: “eighth—because it is beyond the frustrations and limitations of ‘seven,’ the time of this world—and the first, because with it begins the new time, that of the Kingdom.”* The Jewish Sabbath, which is on the seventh day of the week, is stuck within the confines of the fallen world. But on the first Easter Sunday, Christ inaugurated a new world with a new time. The Christian Sunday is not merely a transformation of the way we mark time; it is the transformation of time itself.
As an eighth day, it renders all time as remembrance. We remember the world in its previous struggles, in its pain and toil and death. But as the first day, it brings expectation. We have gotten a taste of the world to come, we have seen the Life of that world standing before us in his glorified body, and we look forward to the time when we will see its glorious fulfillment. This rhythm of remembrance and expectation is carried over into the cycles of daily prayer practiced by the liturgical Christian traditions. More than mere “prayer breaks,” these cycles of prayer (called “the Daily Office” in the Anglican tradition) are in fact redeeming acts of the Church, the part we play in the creation of the world to come. They are offerings to God of our daily lives: “We come into the presence of Christ to offer Him our time...And He fills this time with Himself, He heals it and makes it—again and again—the time of our salvation...[God] made time, and our work in it, into the sacrament of the world to come, the liturgy of fulfillment and ascension.”* Thus we could consider these times of prayer to be the “material element” of the sacrament of time. When we say morning and evening prayer, we are in a very real way bringing heaven to earth. We are offering our time to God, and asking him to fill it, redeem it, and transform it into the “world without end.”
* Alexander Schmemann, For the Life of the World, 51.
*Ibid., 63, 64-65.