"O DAY OF REST AND GLADNESS"
"Upon the first day of the week…the disciples came together…" (Acts 20.7)
INTRO.: A song which indicates that the church is to come together upon the first day of the week is "O Day of Rest and Gladness." The text was written by Christopher Wordsworth, who was born on Oct. 30, 1807, at Bocking in Essex, not far from London, England, the son of Christopher Wordsworth, master of Trinity College at Cambridge, and the nephew of the famed English poet William Wordsworth. Young Christopher was educated at Winchester School and at Trinity College, where he was renowned as both a scholar and an athlete during his student days. Becoming a minister in the Church of England in 1833, he served as headmaster of Harrow from 1836 to 1850, then as minister at Stafford-in-the-Vale in Berkshire from 1850 to 1869. In 1862, he published a collection of 117 original poems with 82 by other authors entitled The Holy Year, or Hymns for Sundays and Holy Days Throughout the Year, and Other Occasions, of which "O Day of Rest and Gladness" was No. 1. With slight alterations, it was used in the 1868 Appendix to the the 1861 Hymns Ancient and Modern.
In 1869, Wordsworth served briefly as archdeacon of Westminster and was then made Bishop of Lincoln. A recognized theologian and Greek scholar, he wrote a commentary on the entire Bible, published in 1870, and a Church History, published in 1883, among other works. His belief about hymns was that "it is the first duty of a hymn to teach sound doctrine and thence to save souls." His death occurred on Mar. 20 or 21, 1885, at Harewood in Lincoln, England. This song has been set to several tunes, most books using one (Mendebras) arranged by Lowell Mason which in our books has been used with James Montgomery’s "Hail to the Lord’s Anointed," but the only one of our recent books to use the song has an anonymous tune (Es Flog Kleins Waldvoglein or Woodbird) believed to be a traditional German melody taken from a 17th century hymnbook known as the Memmington Manuscript. The harmonization was made in 1904 by George Ratcliffe Woodward (1848-1934). Among hymnbooks published by members of the Lord’s church during the twentieth century for use in churches of Christ, the song appeared in the 1922 edition of the 1921 Great Songs of the Church (No. 1) edited by E. L. Jorgenson, but that page is missing in my copy so I do not know what tune was used. It was found with the Memmington Manuscript tune in the 1963 Christian Hymnal edited by J. Nelson Slater.
The song points out that the first day of the week has a special importance to the Lord’s church.
I. Stanza 1 calls the first day a day of rest and gladness
"O day of rest and gladness, O day of joy and light,
O balm of care and sadness, Most beautiful, most bright:
On Thee, the high and lowly, Through ages joined in tune,
Sing holy, holy, holy, To the great God Triune."
A. Some might object to calling the first day of the week a "day of rest and gladness," thinking that such language makes it sound too much like the Old Testament Sabbath which was truly a day of rest; however, while the New Testament does not demand that the first day of the week be a time of physical rest, there is nothing wrong with thinking of it as a day of spiritual rest and gladness because on that day we have the opportunity of assembling together to exhort one another: Heb. 3.13
B. It is encouraging to remember that, while Christians are assembled in different localities, upon the first day of the week we are joining with brethren in all places, even as saints of all ages have done through the years, to serve and praise our God: Heb. 10.25, 12.28, 13.15
C. And in doing so, we are in fact joining with the heavenly creatures around the throne of God to sing holy, holy, holy to our Lord: Rev. 4.9-11
II. Stanza 2 talks about some of the important things that have happened on the first day
"On Thee, at the creation, The light first had its birth;
On Thee, for our salvation, Christ rose from depths of earth.
On Thee, our Lord, victorious, The Spirit sent from heaven,
And thus on Thee, most glorious, a triple light was given."
A. It was on the first day of the week that God created light: Gen. 1.1-5
B. It was on the first day of the week that Christ arose from the dead: Mk. 16.9
C. It was on the first day of the week that the Spirit was sent from heaven to the apostles: Lev. 23.15-16, Acts 2.1-4
III. Stanza 3 likens the first today to things that bring great blessings to us
"Thou art a port protected From storms that round us rise;
A garden intersected With streams of Paradise.
Thou art a cooling fountain In life’s dry, dreary sand;
From Thee, like Pisgah’s mountain, we view our promised land."
A. The first day is like a port protected from storms, with a beautful garden that is intersected with streams of Paradise in that it helps us to set our affections on things above: 2 Cor. 12.1-4, Col. 3.1-2
B. It is like a cooling fountain from which we can find refreshment in a dry and thirsty land: Ps. 63.1-2
C. Since our worship together is a glimpse into the joys of heaven, it is like Mt. Pisgah, from which Moses saw the promised land: Deut. 34.1-3
IV. Stanza 4 pictures the first day as that which helps draw us nearer to God and heaven
"Thou art a holy ladder, Where angels go and come;
Each Sunday finds us gladder, nearer to heaven, our home.
A day of sweet reflection, Thou art a day of love,
A day of resurrection From earth to things above."
A. Each Sunday should find us gladder and nearer to heaven, and is so compared to the ladder that Jacob saw upon which angels ascended and descended: Gen. 28.10-12
B. Thus, it can be a day of sweet reflection and love, especially as we commune with the Lord’s death when we remember His sacrifice for us and examine ourselves: 1 Cor. 11.23-28
C. And it is also a day of resurrection in that we are reminded that we have been raised from baptism to walk in newness of life: Rom. 6.3-4
V. Stanza 5 says that the first day is a time of Gospel preaching
"Today on weary nations The heavenly manna falls;
To holy convocations the silver trumpet calls,
Where Gospel light is glowing with pure and radiant beams,
And living water flowing, With soul-refreshing streams."
A. Just as the people of Israel were given manna in the wilderness, so Jesus came down to bring spiritual manna which is received through the preaching of His words: Jn. 6.31-35, 63
B. Therefore, we should come together to hear the preaching of the gospel just as the silver trumpet called the Israelites to holy
convocations: Num. 10.1-3
C. And when we thus come together to hear the words of Christ, we can receive the water of life which He gives: Jn. 4.10-14
VI. Stanza 6 refers to the first day as a symbol of the eternal hope that God gives us
"New graces ever gaining From this our day of rest,
We reach the rest remaining to spirits of the blessed.
To Holy Ghost be praises, to Father, and to Son;
The church her voice upraises to Thee, Blessed Three in One."
A. It is through the word of God’s grace that we have this hope of an inheritance with the saints: Acts 20.32
B. Therefore, the new graces that we gain in assembling to hear the word help us to reach the rest that God has prepared: Heb. 4.1-9
C. Because of all this, we praise the Lord; the "great God Triune" of stanza 1 and the "Blessed Three in One" of stanza 6 are simply references to the Father, the Son,and the Holy Ghost: Matt. 28.20
CONCL.: Because the first day of the week has been authorized as the one upon which Christians are to assemble to break bread, remembering the death of Christ in His memorial supper, many older hymn writers recognized the importance of this day and produced songs to remind people of its benefits. Unfortunately, not many of these are as popular today as they once were, and even fewer of them have ever found their way into our books. However, I believe that it would do the church good to be reminded of the blessings of the day and, poetically, to address it as "O Day of Rest and Gladness."