THE LORD’S DAY – Second Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 4, Year B; Body and Blood of Christ, Year B (RC)

June 2, 2024

Revised Common Lectionary
1 Samuel 3:1-10 (11-20) or Deuteronomy 5:12-15
Psalm 139:1-6, 13-18 or Psalm 81:1-10
2 Corinthians 4:5-12
Mark 2:23-3:6

Lectionary for Mass (RC)
Exodus 24:3-8
Psalm 116:12-13, 15-16, 17-18 (13)
Hebrews 9:11-13
Mark 14:12-16, 22-26

As my birthday approaches, I’m looking forward to all the things that make it a special day—having a nice dinner with my husband and other family members, reading well wishes from friends on Facebook, and of course, taking advantage of a free drink at the local coffee shop. Most of us enjoy observing birthdays, anniversaries, and other days that help us to mark important events in our lives—days that remind us of who we are and who the important people are in our lives.

For the Jewish people, no day is more significant than the sabbath, which occurs not yearly but weekly. Today’s reading from Deuteronomy connects the prohibition of work on the sabbath to the very identity of the community: “Remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the LORD your God brought you out from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm; therefore the LORD your God commanded you to keep the sabbath day” (Dt 5:15). This day of rest is a gift to people who had once been oppressed but now have been set free by God. That gift is extended generously to include children, slaves, resident aliens, and even animals. The sabbath is a reminder to the Jewish people of who they are—and whose they are.

The text from Deuteronomy provides an important context for today’s Gospel reading, in which Mark recounts two incidents that take place on a sabbath. First, as the disciples make their way through a wheat field, they help themselves to some grains for snacking. The law allows them to take the grain—but not to pluck them on the sabbath, since that involves productive work. When the Pharisees challenge Jesus on his disciples’ behavior, he first cites a biblical precedent, but then makes a statement in which he reinterprets the law: “The sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the sabbath; so the Son of Man is lord even of the sabbath” (Mk 2:27-28). He not only declares a new norm but makes the bold claim that he himself has authority to do so.

Next, as Jesus enters the synagogue, he observes a man with a withered hand and calls him forward. The law made provision for emergency care on the sabbath, but this man had clearly lived with the condition for a long time and the work of healing could have waited. The man has made no request, but Jesus takes the opportunity to make a direct challenge to the religious leaders, asking, “Is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the sabbath, to save life or to kill?” (Mk 3:4) Angered by their silence, he instructs the man to hold out his hand, and immediately he was healed. The challenge that Jesus set out to the religious leaders is based not on a rejection of the sabbath, but on reclaiming its character as a day centered on the God who has set people free. Although Jesus had taken no direct action and had technically not run afoul of the law, the religious leaders went off to form an alliance with secular opponents of Jesus, ultimately leading to his crucifixion by the Roman government.

After Jesus died and rose from the dead, Christians soon began to regard the first day of the week—Sunday—as holding special significance. Sunday is the day of Christ’s rising. It is the day on which post-resurrection appearances occurred, including the encounter with two disciples on the road to Emmaus who recognized him in the breaking of bread. Sunday is the day on which New Testament writers expected Christ to return in glory. It soon became the day on which the Christian community gathered to celebrate its identity as a people set free in the dying and rising of Jesus, a day for hearing God’s word together, and for celebrating the Lord’s Supper.

Sunday is not the same as the Jewish sabbath, but it is regarded by most Christians as the Lord’s Day. It has been called the “original Christian feast day,” observed far longer than any yearly festival, including Easter and Christmas. Today’s readings offer an opportunity for modern-day disciples of Jesus to reflect on the meaning of this weekly celebration.

During the time that I was growing up in Pennsylvania, there were “blue laws” that restricted many activities on Sunday, including the sale of alcohol in stores or the serving of alcoholic beverages in bars and restaurants. While originally intended to make Sunday a day of rest and to allow for the unhindered celebration of the Lord’s Day, the blue laws eventually proved to be onerous and increasingly inappropriate for a religiously pluralistic society.

The Sunday celebration of the Lord’s Day is not about rules and restrictions, but like the Jewish sabbath, it is a day of freedom. Sunday recalls Christ’s rising, the gift of the Spirit, and hope in the coming of God’s reign. It is a day for gathering, remembering that we are a community joined by baptism to hear God’s word, to share the holy meal, and to return to our daily lives as living signs of God’s love and compassion. Rather than lamenting the social changes that have affected Sunday observance, perhaps we can take up the challenge of finding new ways to invite others into the power and delight of celebrating this special day.

A Hymn for Today: “This is a day of new beginnings”

Hymn writer Brian Wren, FHS, originally composed this text for the New Year’s Day service at a parish community in England. He subsequently revised it to be suitable for any celebration of new beginnings. A careful reading of the text reveals that it is appropriate for celebration of and reflection on the Lord’s Day, with its themes of freedom, new life, the gift of the Spirit, celebration of the Lord’s Supper, and hope for the final coming of God’s reign. Listen here as Wren’s text is sung to the tune composed for it by Carlton R. Young, FHS.

This is a day of new beginnings,
time to remember and move on,
time to believe what love is bringing,
laying to rest the pain that’s gone.

For by the life and death of Jesus,
Love’s mighty Spirit, now as then,
can make for us a world of difference,
as faith and hope are born again.

Then let us, with the Spirit’s daring,
step from the past and leave behind
our disappointment, guilt, and grieving,
seeking new paths, and sure to find.

Christ is alive, and goes before us
to show and share what love can do.
This is a day of new beginnings;
our God is making all things new.

Text: Brian Wren, b. 1936. © 1983, 1987, Hope Publishing Co. Used by permission under OneLicense #A-729857.

Image Credit: Jesus Heals the Man with a Withered Hand, Ilyas Basim Khuri Bazzi Rahib, 1684, Walters Art Museum, Baltimore

“Word and Song: A Lectionary Reflection” is written by the Executive Director of The Hymn Society, Rev. Dr. Mike McMahon. For his full bio, click here and scroll down to the “staff” section.

To receive these weekly reflections by email, please send a message to and type “Lectionary” in the subject line.