“On the first day of the week we came together to break bread.”
The first day of the week. Gathered saints. Breaking bread. Listening to Pau’s teaching. Joy, fellowship, edification. But death invades. A young man named falls out the third-story window. The church rushes to him. He is dead. Brokenness, grief, disillusionment.
You have been there too. A phone call in the night reveals that a parent, a spouse, a child, a relative, or a friend has died. Death is an unwelcome intruder who robs our joy.
Death generates hopelessness. We are powerless before it. It pervades our existence and we cannot escape its clutches. Death is inevitable. It reigns over us. Consequently, the tyranny of death renders us hopeless, powerless and grasping for anything that might mitigate its finality. We all, even now, wear a death shroud.
Death even invades the Sunday communion of God’s people, as in Acts 20:7-12. We announce the death of friends. We lament their passing, and we mourn our loss.
But the first day of the week brings hope. It remembers the past and it bears witness to the future. It reminds us of the first day, the first of all first days of the week, when God conquered death; it reminds us of Easter Sunday. It also transports us into the future where, by faith, we see death’s final overthrow. There, too, in the future we see Easter Sunday. Further, Easter Sunday is already here. It affirms the alreadiness of God’s transforming power among his people.
Our weekly first day of the week is linked with that past, historic first day of the week—Easter itself . We continue the tradition of meeting on the first day of the week because something transforming, something cosmically redemptive, happened on that day. The first day of the week only has meaning because it is grounded in what really happened on a first day of the week in first century Palestine. Easter gives the first day of the week its significance.
This tradition is rooted in history. It is grounded in a mighty act of God. This act did not simply occur in the hearts of the disciples, but it left an empty tomb. God raised Jesus from the dead.
All the gospels begin their resurrection narratives by calling attention to that first day of the week (Matthew 28:1; Mark 16:1; Luke 24:1; John 20:1). That day, that temporal moment in history, was etched into the memory of the disciples. That day, the day they discovered the empty tomb and the day on which Jesus appeared to them, was the day when disappointment turned to hope, tears to joy and fear to boldness. It was a day to remember, and it was a day they remembered weekly as they met together.
This was not a group hallucination. It was not the figment of overworked imaginations. It was neither a pious plot nor a fairy tale. It was the foundational event that transformed the defeated followers of Jesus into courageous disciples. The church did not create the resurrection story, but the resurrection created the church.
The reality of the resurrection is important because only there is death truly transformed into life. Only there is Jesus of Nazareth, the one who bore the curse of the tree, justified. Only there are we given a reason to trust the work of God in Christ.
Every first day of the week we remember Easter Sunday, and we remember that the story of God in Christ is authentic; it is not fiction. Easter Sunday is God’s testimony that he truly is God.
When we break bread on Sunday, we unite with God’s mighty Easter act and are assured that our God is God and Jesus is Lord.
Our weekly first day of the week is linked to the future—the future Easter. Easter Sunday is the last (eschatos) day of the cosmos. Easter Sunday, the first day of the week, is not only the first day of a new age, but it is also the last day of this age. Easter Sunday proclaims Jesus as the first and the last, the Alpha and the Omega. He is the Living One who was once dead, but is now alive (Revelation 1:17-18).
The first day of the week remembers the past Easter and it bears witness to the future Easter. It may seem strange to speak of a “future Easter.” But Easter itself is a future, eschatological event. It orients us toward the future as we look past death to the eschatological renewal God intends.
Paul describes the resurrection of Jesus as a firstfruit (1 Corinthians 15:20). The resurrection of Jesus belongs to the harvest; it is the first part of the harvest. It does not belong to the ebb and flow of history, but rather it is the end of history. It is the last day—the day of resurrection.
His resurrection was unlike any other prior to it. On occasion, throughout the history of God’s redemptive work, some had been raised from the dead. But their resurrections were resuscitations. The resurrection of Jesus was a transformation. He was the firstborn from the dead (Revelation 1:5). His “spiritual body” would never die (1 Corinthians 15:42-49). His resurrection was a “last days” event.
But if it is an eschatological event, why did it happen on a specific first day of the week in first century Palestine? If it belongs to the last things, why do we look back to it as the first thing?
The resurrection of Jesus is an event from the future. It is a future moment that entered human history. God has offered us a preview of coming attractions. He has given us this firstfruit as a testimony of the coming harvest.
Through the resurrection, God invades the present with hope. In response to the pervasive despair that death brings, God dispels that darkness with light from the future. He grounds our hope through the resurrection of Jesus. God reveals the end in Jesus so that life and immortality are embraced through the gospel (2 Timothy 1:8-10).
The first day of the week, then, is filled with hope because Easter Sunday, as the last day, has transformed our experience of death. The first day of the week transports us into the future where we revel in the glory of God’s coming reign.
When we break bread on Sunday, we live in the future because by his mighty Easter act God revealed the eschaton.
Our weekly first day of the week is also our present experience of God through the Holy Spirit—the experience of Easter. The eschaton is already present by the Spirit of God who indwells us.
The power of the Spirit, of course, is the power of the resurrection. Just as God raised Jesus by the power of the Spirit (Romans 1:4), so he will raise us by his Spirit as well (Romans 8:11). But this power is not only future, it is present. The power that will transform our vile bodies into the glorious body of Jesus Christ (Philippians 3:21) is the same power that transforms our fallen lives into the likeness of Christ in the present (2 Corinthians 3:18).
This power is not only the power of moral transformation, but it is the experience of Easter itself. It is the present gift, the guarantee, of what is to come (Ephesians 1:13-14; 2 Corinthians 1:22). Even now, on every first day of the week, we experience the glory of Easter. Christians are filled with the Spirit as they sing to the Lord, pray in the Spirit and worship by the Spirit (Ephesians 5:18-19; 6:18; Philippians 3:3). The experience of the Spirit is the experience of Easter itself. The Spirit is the firstfruit of our adoption as children of God by whom we cry “Abba” (Romans 8:15, 23). The Spirit is poured out upon God’s children because of Easter.
Easter, then, as the ground of the Spirit’s out-pouring, empowers our Sunday worship, transforms our lives and calls us into a personal relationship with God through the Spirit’s presence. While Easter is both past and future, it is also present when we experience the resurrection power of Jesus Christ (Philippians 3:10).
When we break bread on Sunday, we experience the power of Easter Sunday as we eat with the living host who shares his table with us.
Every Sunday, because of Easter Sunday, we go home alive in the Spirit, alive in hope and greatly comforted. Though we face death all day long, yet we are conquerors through the one who himself conquered death for our sakes by his own resurrection. Even though death surrounds us and too often invades our lives, Easter Sunday brings hope to every first day of the week.
Paul joins the church outside. He sees Eutyches. He is dead. But Paul announces that he lives. Eutyches gets up and returns to the upper room. He talks with Paul. He breaks bread. It is the first day of the week. Eutyches goes home alive. The people of God are comforted; the future has arrived…in part. Come, Lord Jesus; let the earth be renewed with the fullness of your resurrection presence and a redeemed cosmos.
“The people took the young man home alive and were greatly comforted.”