Nearly all measurements of time are based on celestial events: the day is one rotation of planet Earth (ancient sophisticated math divides this into hours, minutes, and seconds); the month is one lunar cycle; the year is one of Earth’s revolutions around the sun (ancient simpler math multiples this to decades, centuries, and millennia). The week, however, cannot be calculated in the stars; thus, it could seem an arbitrary measurement.
How Many Days in a Week?
A seven-day week has been the obvious calendar system for Jews since they began measuring time, due to the creation story. Babylon also counted off seven days based on seven heavenly bodies visible to the naked eye. Muslims and Christians have followed this schedule, too, as their faiths emerged.
Since then, governments have tried to remodel the week, not necessarily to spite God but to optimize society. Equalizing the number of days and weeks from month to month, people thought, could prevent stretched budgets and clerical errors. So, they attempted five-, ten-, fifteen-, and twenty-day weeks. Others thought it would be convenient if dates fell on the same day every year. (This has my vote if it means my birthday is always on a Saturday.) The Soviet Union set a six-day week but staggered citizens’ day of rest, which (perhaps purposefully) made congregational assembly impossible and separated husbands and wives on their days off.
Every attempt to modify the seven-day week flopped. They caused terrific confusion, decreased productivity, and often left unaccounted-for days at the end of the year. It was as if seven days, though celestially arbitrary and mathematically recalcitrant, were written into our design.
Where Do the Days Go?
I used to think the calendars that list Monday as the first day of the week were for atheists who wished people a “Merry X-mas.” If Sunday church is the last thing you do in your week, you’re probably taking Christ out of Christmas, too. But after research, I learned the X is shorthand for Christ’s name in Greek, an abbreviation popularized by Constantine. It turns out Constantine also had a say in ordering our weekly calendar.
After creating the world, God rested on what we call Saturday. The Hebrew word for rest is shabbat, which also connotes delight and worship. Since Moses, the Jewish people have kept the fourth commandment: honor the Sabbath day and keep it holy. Jews today go to synagogue on Saturday following their shabbat meal the night before. I believe God’s placing the Sabbath at the end of the week gives it its significance. It is a stopping of work. It is the last thing God did in the first week of recorded time, and the first thing in the Bible God declared holy. So, we are commanded to observe it as such.
Practically, Sunday became the day of worship when Constantine mandated a version of Christianity in the Roman Empire and shifted away from the customs of conquered lands, including the Saturday Sabbath. Theologically, Sunday’s significance came from it being the first day of creation and, more importantly, the day on which Jesus rose from the dead to destroy the power of sin and death.
Certainly, Resurrection Sunday is worth celebrating. Also, it’d be futile to push America’s weekends back a day, as they are in Israel. So, to circumvent our culture’s all-but-declared sabbathlessness, I choose to see Sunday as the last day of the week. For 2024, I’ll buy one of those calendars the starts the week on a Monday.
The Day Starts at Night
In Genesis 1, the author transitions between each day of creation saying, “There was evening and there was morning, the [nth] day.” He defined a day as evening and then morning. These days, we tell the story of our day in reverse: It starts when we wake up in the morning and finishes at evening bedtime. Why this reversal?
In researching this article, I didn’t discover when humanity began starting their day in the morning, rather than in evening as Moses wrote. Perhaps it, too, was popularized by Constantine or the Roman Empire. Perhaps we started starting our days at dawn not to spite God but to optimize society. Maybe the Israelites were the only ones starting at night and it was easier to join the crowd than beat ‘em. But God must have had a reason to start the days at night. What does it do to adopt his schedule, and what do we miss by resisting it?
Of starting the day at night, author Andy Crouch said, “Rather than resting to recover from a hard day’s work, this way of seeing time suggests that we work out of the abundance of a good night’s rest.” In a kind of paradox, the Israelites worked daily out of the rest given them the night prior and worked weekly in anticipation of the day of rest at the end of every week.
Mondays, Am I Right?
Attempting to literally reverse the week’s end and the day’s start would confuse many in our cultural moment. So adopting this view is an internal paradigm for me that has had external benefits. I’ve found that viewing my week and days in the way that God first ordered it helps me. It helps me trust him that rest is coming on Sunday, so I work harder toward it. I trust that he’s provided sufficient rest for today the night before, so I am less put off when my kids fight bedtime—God knew when they’d fall asleep that night when he woke me up that morning.
This perspective has set my circadian rhythm to God’s design, and I am more rested, daily and weekly, because of it.
Because Sabbath is more than a day off—it is true rest and delight in God’s provision leading me to worship him for it—Sunday is surely my favorite day of the week. It is a day of fun, relaxed activity, and enriching fellowship. But I don’t dread Mondays, because I know it will only get better from there.
This quote from Rabbi Abraham Heschel says it all: “The Sabbath is not for the sake of the weekdays; the weekdays are for the sake of Sabbath. It is not an interlude but the climax of living.”