This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice in it and be glad in it. (Psalm 118:24)
Traditionally on Sundays we would put on our best clothes, our best “face”, our best behaviour and go to Church. People of my grandparents’ generation in Cyprus would have a just have a couple of changes of everyday clothing and then one good suit or dress that was their Sunday best. These were the special clothes that they would wear only to Church, and at Easter they might get a new set of Sunday clothes for this pupose. Certainly, many people will remember as small children wearing their Sunday best, and changing back into more comfortable clothes when they got home and when any visitors had left. The fact that many choose to wear good clothes to Church on Sunday perhaps suggests something special about the day.
Why is Sunday so special?
St. John Chrysostom calls Sunday, the “birthday of human nature, because we were lost and found ourselves dead and we became alive again and were reconciled to our enemies. This is why we should give it spiritual honour”. Elsewhere he says, that on the Day of Resurrection “death was dissolved, the curse blotted out, sin was withered dry, the gates of Hades broken down, the devil taken prisoner and those continual wars were done away with” and God was reconciled to man.
Patristic tradition calls Sunday, this first day of the week, ‘The Lord’s Day’. This is reflected in many languages, starting with Greek, the language of the New Testament, where the adjective meaning “belonging to the Lord” has become a single word translated into English as Sunday. Thus, Greek: κυριακή (kyriaki), Latin dominica and from this Spanish domingo, Italian domenica etc. Moreover, in Russian we find воскресенье (voskresen’ye) i.e. Resurrection Day. In the patristic tradition this first day of the week is called ‘The Lord’s Day’, ‘The Day of the Sun of Righteousness’ in contrast to Sunday, referring to the Sun God of the Pagans (See St Justin Martyr’s First Apology), it is also known as the Eighth Day.
The Eighth Day symbolizes the new creation brought about by the Resurrection of Christ, St. Basil the Great says, “The Lord’s Day is great and glorious. The scripture knows this day without evening, having no other day, a day without end; the psalmist called it the Eighth Day, since it is outside of time measured in weeks. Whether you call it a day or an age, it is all the same.”
According to St. Gregory Palamas, it is the Eighth Day, because not only was this the day of Christ’s Resurrection, but it is the Eighth Resurrection in history. There were three resurrections in the Old Testament (The Prophet Elijah once and the Prophet Elisha twice) and a further four in the New Testament (Jairus’ daughter, the widow of Nain’s son, Lazarus, and the dead raised at the Crucifixion. Thus the greatest, the eighth resurrection, is the Resurrection of Christ. However, it is not just the eighth resurrection, it is also the first resurrection that looks to the hope of the general resurrection of all in Christ. This celebration, like any joy filled event demands our best apparel.
“I will bless the LORD at all times: his praise shall continually be in my mouth.” (Psalm 34:1)
When should we wear our Sunday best?
It is clear that Sunday is a very special day of the week. Each Sunday is a “little Pascha”, a “small Easter” we are called to worship together, to encounter God, in a community with others. St. John Chrysostom stresses the importance of coming to Church on Sundays, “Praying at home is not the same as praying at Church. Not only is there a great multitude, where exclamations are cried out to God as from one great heart, there is something more: the union of minds, the accord of souls, the bond of charity, the prayers of the priests.” [See On the Incomprehensible Nature of God].
But should we wear our Sunday best on other days of the week? Is the joy of the Resurrection, communion and community with others, common prayer and common vision just for Sunday or when we gather in the Divine Liturgy? How often do we wear our “Sunday best?” More precisely, how often to we live our everyday lives as though we are in Church on a Sunday morning? Do we glorify and give honour to God in the same way during the week? Do we pray during the week, and not only alone, but with others? Do sing hymns or read Scripture or show our devotion to God beyond Sunday? Do we communicate with those around us? Do we show love for others? Even for the outsider, and the outcast? Are we part time followers of Christ? Are we only Christians when we wear our Sunday best? Or should we be Christians in our comfortable clothes?
I’m not talking about putting on a display of Christianity, making a show of religion (II Timothy 3:5) where we fool ourselves into thinking we are good people. Christ doesn’t demand that we do things out of Christian duty, or because it will make us good, we won’t be saved simply by sticking to some Christian code of conduct where we try to prove to ourselves we are spiritual or religious.
The truth is that we are sinners, and despite our falleness, our brokeness, our sinfulness Christ wants a relationship with us and we are in need of a relationship with Him. We are not asked to form a certain behaviour set, or follow certain laws, we are called to be transfigured and transformed in Christ. We are the poor, the maimed, the lame and the blind who have been invited to the wedding feast, are we ready to attend?
Our joyful Sunday best should be something we are pleased to wear everyday. It should be our inner Sunday best. What is this inner Sunday best? It is clothing ourselves with the virtues that Christ freely gives to us. It is spending our whole week, not just Sunday, in a spirit of love, humility, patience, prayer, praise and worship. We should make our ascesis such that both our encounters with other people and our thoughts and desires do not sully this garment freely given us so we can attend the banquet set forth to transform us.
“And the Lord of hosts will prepare a lavish banquet for all peoples on this mountain; a banquet of aged wine, choice pieces with marrow, and refined, aged wine.
He will swallow up death for all time, and the Lord God will wipe tears away from all faces, and He will remove the reproach of His people from all the earth; for the Lord has spoken.
And it will be said in that day, “Behold, this is our God for whom we have waited that He might save us. This is the Lord for whom we have waited; let us rejoice and be glad in His salvation.” Isaiah 25:6-9