Since Jesus lived under the Hebrew calendar, does this imply that our “Sunday” begins on Saturday evening and the Lord’s Supper should be observed at that time? After all, when the church was established in Acts, they all lived under the Hebrew calendar. Since most Christians today have their Sunday services on the actual day of Sunday, how are we assured that we are taking the Lord’s supper at the intended time that Jesus called us to share the communion? And why does the Lord’s Supper as practiced today not also have a common meal as mentioned in 1 Cor 11:17-34?
First of all, you are surely right that the “day” for Jesus began at sunset and ended at sunset. For example, the Sabbath that Jesus and his fellow Jews celebrated began Friday at sunset and ended Saturday at sunset. Whether it is required that present day Christian believers act according to a calendar from two thousand years ago is a questionable premises, but I am sure that some believers will want to recognize the ancient Jewish way of thinking about days.
So, what should Christians do about the celebration of the Lord’s Supper? Should we adhere to a Jewish reckoning of the timing of days? Different believers will, of course, have differing opinions about this, but we ought to look at the biblical evidence first, and then the very early church evidence after that before we try to make a choice.
You might be surprised to know that there is no commandment in the New Testament on when or how often to celebrate the Lord’s Supper. Jesus did tell us to “do this in remembrance of me,” yet he did not tell us when. I assume that if it was an essential matter, then God would have seen to the timing at least being mentioned in the Bible! This seems common sense. As far as I know, the only biblical evidence for the timing of reenacting the Last Supper in the New Testament is in Acts 20:7 in which we are told that “on the first day of the week we came together to break bread. It is debatable whether this breaking of bread is a reference to the Lord’s Supper, but it is more than likely that this was not merely eating together—that it was the worship of the church in which the Lord’s Supper was celebrated. The evidence in this particular case is that this happened at night. This would almost certainly be our Saturday evening. Is this proof that the apostolic church always celebrated the Lord’s Supper on Saturday evening, or even that this was the usual practice? I say that it is fairly weak evidence (although it is evidence) since this appears to be a special meeting, as Paul was setting out the next morning for his journey.
There is more evidence in the New Testament, not for the Lord’s Supper being taken on the first day of the week, but of the main gathering of the church being on that day. This evidence is in 1 Corinthians 16:2 in which Paul asks the Corinthians to do what the Galatians already did, which is to take up a special contribution, probably for the needs in Jerusalem, on the first day of the week. This does not mention the Lord’s Supper, but it is perfectly reasonable to assume that the collection and the communion were at the same meeting. Whether these meetings were on what we would call Saturday evening or Sunday during the day is not stated here.
I want to move on to the evidence from church history, but before we do, we need to address the question of whether there is anything like a Christian “Sabbath.” Here is what I have found from my study of the New Testament. There is no evidence whatsoever in the New Testament that there is a Christian “Sabbath.” What I mean by that is that there is no commanded day of rest in Christianity. There is literally no scripture that even suggests this. In fact, in Hebrews 4:1-13 that Christians do not have a Sabbath rest day. Our Sabbath will be in heaven. In addition, Paul commands us to not judge people according to whether or not they recognize a Sabbath in Colossians 2:16. Some Christian denominations have at times had strong teaching about Sunday being a Christian Sabbath, but this is not justified biblically.
Next there is the evidence from church history. Most relevant for determining what the apostolic practice was is the very early records. I have done considerable research into this, partially because some seventh day advocates have pushed a strong agenda regarding Sabbath worship and I want to be prepared to answer their questions. What I have found from my research is that by the second century the principle worship meeting of the churches was on what we would call Sunday. The Communion service was celebrated by the churches weekly on Sunday. Many churches also had meetings on Saturday. The church in Alexandria had meetings on both Saturday and Sunday. However, the evidence I have seen favors the conclusion that the Lord’s Supper celebration was on Sunday. The churches generally excluded the non-baptized from their communions, but whether this was the only practice is uncertain.
Here is my conclusion, and you can take it for what it is worth. God did not prescribe either how often or when we should remember the Lord’s death by taking the Lord’s Supper. The tradition from the very beginning was to do this on the “first day of the week,” which would be Sunday, or more accurately, either Saturday after sunset or Sunday before sunset. For me, I prefer to follow the tradition which was clearly established by the apostles, which is weekly celebration on Sunday (or Saturday evening). However, the important thing is not the timing or even the frequency, but the important thing is to take the Lord’s supper as a body on a regular basis. We do this because it was commanded by God for our benefit, but we should not enforce uniformity on how often or on what day of the week the Communion is celebrated. If you have a personal conviction that it ought to be celebrated on Sunday, that is fine, but you should be cautious about dividing with other believers over this unessential teaching.
As for eating a common meal at our weekly worship, this is a great idea, but it is certainly not commanded in the Bible. The fact we can gather from church history is that most of the very early churches did celebrate what was called the Love Feast. This was a common meal which was not attached to the Lord’s Supper. By the second century many churches abandoned the Love Feast because it tended to become problematic, with people putting more attention to the meal than to the Communion. In fact, from 1 Corinthians 11:17-34 we can see that the meal they were sharing was already a source of division in Corinth. The practice held on in Alexandria into the third century, but eventually was not continued in the churches. If a local church decides to enact a modern-day Love Feast, that may be a great idea, but it is not an essential of Christian practice.