"Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ." - Jerome

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Christmas and Sunday, with a poem by George Herbert

For many, Christmas is a favorite time of year. Many traditions, however, shunned the celebration of Christmas as an imposition from above. Some say it is a Reformed distinctive to abolish Holy Days, but John Calvin seems pretty Reformed and he did not require such things. Generally, Presbyterian Westminsterians in England had desired that the holiday ought not be imposed on anyone by the church (for there was not a basis in Scripture for requiring the celebration of Christmas) but did not legally ban the holiday until the more puritan Congregationalists took control, and Oliver Cromwell legally banned Christmas. [He's a mean one...Mr. Grinch!] A few, such as D.G. Hart, may think that was a good idea, but I tend to disagree. But D.G. Hart does make a wonderful point in his book on worship, that in the construction of "the church calendar" we have forgotten the original church calendar: The seven-day week.

The church calendar intended to conform the life of a Christian through the year to the life of Christ. We often forget that the 7-day week provides the same opportunity. First, the week reminded Israel that the first day of the week, God started the work of Creation. On the seventh day, God ceased working, setting a day apart for His worship. When Christ died on the sixth day, spent the seventh day resting in the grave and rose on the first/eighth day the imagery was not unintentional. The first day is the day of creation. Now the day of Christ's resurrection marks the beginning of new creation. As we worship on this Sunday, we ought to not rush to Christmas. Sunday should be primary in our thoughts of how time reminds us of the work of God.

Do we value Sunday? We certainly treat Christmas as a special day, changing our daily routine for that special day. Do we treat Sunday differently? Are we thankful for the gift of Sabbath rest and worship? Could we pen something like George Herbert in honor of the day of worship?

As for the poem: Notice the complexity of Herbert's structure. Seven lines. ABABCAC rhyming scheme. Herbert's poem on Sunday (from His book of poems "The Temple")

by George Herbert

O Day most calm, most bright,
The fruit of this, the next worlds bud,
Th’ indorsement of supreme delight,
Writ by a friend, and with his bloud;
The couch of time; cares balm and bay:
The week were dark, but for thy light:
Thy torch doth show the way.

The other dayes and thou
Make up one man; whose face thou art,
Knocking at heaven with thy brow:
The worky-daies are the back-part;
The burden of the week lies there,
Making the whole to stoup and bow,
Till thy release appeare.

Man had straight forward gone
To endlesse death: but thou dost pull
And turn us round to look on one,
Whom, if we were not very dull,
We could not choose but look on still;
Since there is no place so alone,
The which he doth not fill.

Sundaies the pillars are,
On which heav’ns palace arched lies:
The other dayes fill up the spare
And hollow room with vanities.
They are the fruitfull beds and borders
In Gods rich garden: that is bare,
Which parts their ranks and orders.

The Sundaies of mans life,
Thredded together on times string,
Make bracelets to adorn the wife
Of the eternall glorious King.
On Sunday heavens gate stands ope:
Blessings are plentifull and rife,
More plentifull then hope.

This day my Saviour rose,
And did inclose this light for his:
That, as each beast his manger knows,
Man might not of his fodder misse.
Christ hath took in this piece of ground,
And made a garden there for those
Who want herbs for their wound.

The rest of our Creation
Our great Redeemer did remove
With the same shake, which at his passion
Did th’ earth and all things with it move.
As Sampson bore the doores away,
Christs hands, though nail’d, wrought our salvation,
And did unhinge that day.

The brightnesse of that day
We sullied by our foul offence:
Wherefore that robe we cast away,
Having a new at his expence,
Whose drops of bloud paid the full price,
That was requir’d to make us gay,
And fit for Paradise.

Thou art a day of mirth:
And where the Week-dayes trail on ground,
Thy flight is higher, as thy birth.
O let me take thee at the bound,
Leaping with thee from sev’n to sev’n,
Till that we both, being toss’d from earth,
Flie hand in hand to heav’n!

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