The Scriptures have much to say about “the day.” “This is the day that the Lord has made,” sings the Psalmist (Psalm 118:24). But what exactly is the day? Or, more broadly, what even is a day?
Days make up human life like water, light, and air. There’s no such thing as a non-day. Days happen, well, every day. Days are inescapable. Everything that has occurred has happened on some day, and each day’s end is a new day’s beginning. Days are constitutive of the created order. Life has a “daily” shape.
All of this is by the intention of God, the cosmic liturgist. This repetition of “days-on-end” is purposeful. It is possible, Chesterton reminds us, that “God is strong enough to exult in monotony.” For perhaps “God says every morning, ‘Do it again’ to the sun; and every evening, ‘Do it again’ to the moon.” The Creator God is a childlike symphonist, orchestrating the heavenly hosts in an ongoing procession of night and day, darkness and light, “death” and “resurrection,” rejoicing in the reoccurrence.
It is no wonder God chooses to create in days. The first chapter of Genesis narrates the Triune God’s liturgical pedagogy. As He makes the world, He trains it in worship. Thus, the fashioning of the heavens and the earth is the authorship of a worship service. The Word of the Creator summons the earth to bring forth fruit, and the earth responds by doing just that (1:11-12). God again initiates this call-and-response as He invites the ground to bring forth living creatures (1:24). “Thanks be to God!” we can hear the earth reply. And on the last day, God creates Adam, the priest, who will be the one to conduct the cosmos into this heavenly liturgy, drawing every facet of creation into praise of Father, Son, and Spirit.
Days progress, and so, days process. The progression is a procession. Each day consists of the same liturgical cycle, but even the succession of days is moving ever forward: days make up weeks, months, and years. This “daily” structure of the world is a priestly structure. And ultimately, Jesus Christ, the true Adam, serves as the high priest over this celestial ceremony. It is He who mediates between God and creation since He is the Son of the heavens as well as the Son of the earth. Heaven is His throne, and the earth is His footstool (Isaiah 66:1). Even from the beginning, Genesis bears witness to the end: the revelation of the twice-born, two-natured King.
That is what a day is. It is the splendid secret of the material world, a cosmic festival of joy in Christ. The daily setting of the sun narrates the death of the Lord, as human beings, the priests made in His image, enter into slumber. But as the sun begins to peek out from behind the trees and stretches forth its rays of light, it beckons the creation into resurrection life. “I lay down and slept; I awoke, for the Lord sustained me” (Psalm 3:5). Thus saith the Son, the sun, and the sons.
Moreover, for the Christian, each day is an opportunity for faithfulness. The Lord Jesus instructs us to concern ourselves with each day as it comes to us: “Do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble” (Matthew 6:34). Indeed, this is why He teaches us to pray, “Our Father . . . Give us this day (sēmeron) our dailybread” (6:9-11, emphasis added). The Lord’s Prayer is structured around this daily liturgy, teaching us to see the “daily” structure of our lives. Furthermore, in the Gospel of Luke, Jesus specifically says, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily (kath hēmeran), and follow Me” (9:23, emphasis added). A Christian trusts God each day, receives His provision each day, and becomes a martyr each day. And if a day is wasted, there should be no fear, for “His compassions . . . are new every morning” (Lamentations 3:22-23, emphasis added).
But we can say more about the day. “This is the day that the Lord has made,” the Psalmist writes (118:24, emphasis added). Not all days are the same. In Genesis, God works for six days and rests on the seventh. “Then God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it, because in it He rested from all His work which God had created and made” (2:3). Something about this day is special: it is sanctified. But as we keep reading, we are left with questions. Do any of the events of Genesis 2 mark the beginning of a new week? Does the day after God’s day of rest begin again cyclically with the first day, followed by the second, third, etc.? What day is it when Adam and Eve sin?
With respect to the last question, St. Irenaeus answers that it was on a Friday that Adam and Eve ate of the fruit. God had told Adam, Irenaeus reasons, that he would die on the day in which he ate of the forbidden tree. Christ, who came to recapitulate Adam’s life and redeem it, died on the sixth day of creation, Good Friday. Therefore, he concludes, Adam must have sinned (and “died”) on the sixth day of the week (Against Heresies 5.23.2). Regardless of whether we follow Irenaeus’ exact conclusions, his exegetical instincts are worth noting: The meaning of Genesis is not fully disclosed until the coming of Christ, concerning whom it is ultimately written. We would do well to maintain his instincts in examining the nature of “the day,” remembering also St. Augustine’s salient advice that when dealing with matters so profound, it is normal and acceptable that “many different opinions” arise “which are not in conflict with the rule of faith” (City of God 11.32). The meaning of the Bible, or even of individual biblical passages, is layered, and the Church’s tradition serves as the guardrails.
The Epistle to the Hebrews does some of this exegetical work for us. In reflecting on Psalm 95:7-8—“Today, if you will hear His voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion”—the author (or homilist) begins to reflect on the temporal dimensions of God’s rest. This Sabbath rest of God was mentioned by the Psalmist in the final verse, “So I swore in My wrath, ‘They shall not enter My rest’” (95:11). In the Psalm, God’s rest refers to the promised land of Canaan, from which God’s people were barred due to their rebellion. Hebrews, however, identifies this rest with the seventh day from Genesis. This sanctified seventh day that occurred at the beginning of the world is somehow related to the rest which God promised Israel. Moreover, David, he argues, “appoints a certain day (hēmeran),” namely, “Today (sēmeron),” in which it is possible to enter that primordial rest of God (4:7). His conclusion: “there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God” (4:9).
What is going on here? Putting to the side the question of whether the author of Hebrews would pass a contemporary hermeneutics or homiletics course (an indictment on the latter and not the former), let us synthesize his readings. God made the world in six days and rested on the seventh. In promising the land of Canaan to Israel, God was ultimately inviting them to enter into that seventh day of rest. Their rebellion prevented their entry, but His offer did not cease with that generation. Through David, God reveals that the seventh day of rest is still ongoing, and it is called “Today.” And finally, the author of Hebrews reiterates this ongoing invitation and encourages the Church to “strive to enter that rest” (4:11). In sum, there is a “Today” that consists of God’s original rest, which somehow exists alongside the natural course of days as we know it, and into which we are invited to enter.
This is related to the eschatological “day of the Lord” which the Scriptures so often mention. “The great day of the Lord is near,” Zephaniah writes. “It is near and hastens quickly” (1:14). Peter states that on “the day of the Lord (hēmera kuriou) . . . the heavens will pass away . . . and the elements will melt with fervent heat” (2 Peter 3:10). This is the day of judgment. However, for believers, it is a day of hope. Paul says that on that day the Lord will come “to be glorified in His saints and to be admired among all those who believe” (2 Thessalonians 1:10). The author of Hebrews elsewhere tells us to exhort one another, “and so much the more as you see the Day (hēmeran) approaching” (10:25).
“The day,” then, is the day of the eschaton. It is the day of judgment for the wicked, but also the day of God’s primordial Sabbath rest, which extends into eternity. It is the final day, the day that will come in the end, but which somehow exists already even now. This day, in short, is the day of the kingdom of God.
“The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand,” the Lord Jesus says (Mark 1:14). Paul writes that “when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son” (Galatians 4:4). Time itself was full, pregnant, overflowing with meaning and purpose. The kingdom of God is the consummation of time, the created order at its chronological maturity. Thus, the kingdom of God is a future reality from the perspective of “this present age” (Galatians 1:4), something that is “not of this world” precisely because it is of the world to come (John 18:36). It is not an object within the horizon of this world, and so it cannot enter this world and leave it untouched. Rather, it transfigures the world. To the extent that the world remains unchanged, to the same extent is the kingdom of God not yet present. Satan’s dominion is fading away; those who cling to it will be overthrown along with it at the final judgment. “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” This is a prayer for that coming day.
As Jesus hung to the tree, bloody and battered, He spoke of this coming day of the kingdom, the day that was, and is, and is to come. In His suffering, He spoke of it. The word left His lips: “Today.” It was not to the authorities that He spoke this. Nor even to His beloved disciples. He spoke this word to the criminal by his side. “Lord, remember me when You come into Your kingdom.” “Today (sēmeron),” Jesus replied, “you will be with Me in Paradise” (Luke 23:42-43).
While maintaining the Scriptural and catholic teaching regarding Christ’s descent to the dead within some kind of “intermediate state,” we can nevertheless speculate regarding this “Today.” Perhaps “to be present with the Lord” is to enter, somehow, into this Day, God’s eternal rest (cf. 2 Corinthians 5:8). As those located in “the present age” (cf. Mark 10:30), this is a reality that we can only perceive as future. But there is a sense in which this eschatological “Today” is already happening now, for we enter into this Day sacramentally in our Sunday liturgy, the Day of the kingdom that is “at hand” (Mark 1:15). Yes, Christ descended to Hades on Holy Saturday and proclaimed liberty to the faithful captives (Ephesians 4:7-9). Yes, the martyrs cry out, “How long, O Lord?” (Revelation 6:10); in some sense, they are not there yet. Nevertheless, the criminal on the cross was able to taste that “Today,” the glorious kingdom of the Son. Elsewhere, Jesus proves the resurrection to the Sadducees on the basis of the present tense of a verb: God is the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, not merely was or will be (Matthew 22:23-33). Even as Jesus speaks on earth and in time, the patriarchs are sharing in the future resurrection life.
The Irenaean impulse which we identified above, the impulse to acknowledge the Christological structure to the whole of Scripture, here comes to the fore. It is on the cross that Jesus bears witness to this coming kingdom, and He calls it “Today.” By this testimony, Jesus reveals that the kingdom is here among us. The future “Today” is already present for those who take up their crosses daily and ask each day for their daily bread. And this coming kingdom of Jesus Christ, made present on this earth in His Incarnation, suffering, and death, is in fact God’s Sabbath rest from the beginning.
This is the telos of the liturgical ordering of nature. The Incarnation of the Son of God is not Plan B for God’s created order, but its proper denouement. The cosmic Christ is a cosmic priest, reigning over his temple-kingdom, the heavens and the earth. In priestly procession, Jesus Christ leads the created order through the rhythms of its daily worship towards that great eschatological Day. Therefore, the task of the Christian is to image Christ, to participate in His priestly rule. Every day, we follow Christ into His death, born again into new life. Our daily sacrifice is liturgical. This process is not cyclical, however, but a spiral. For the days of creation march forward not arbitrarily, but towards that eschatological Day, as each new day draws closer to that final Day of the kingdom. “This is the day that the Lord has made,” our Priest cries out. And we respond, “Let us rejoice and be glad in it.” Thanks be to God!
Jackson Shepard is an MTS student at Duke Divinity School studying Patristics. You can follow his writings at jacksonbshepard.com.
 G. K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy (NY: Barnes & Noble 2007), 51.
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