AUR views itself as a particularly American and Unitarian Christian expression of the universal search for Truth. Just as the earliest Christian communities struggled with the question of Saturday or Sunday worship (the outcome of which is disputed even today by Seventh Day Adventists) and Muslims took Friday as their Day of Gathering, the Reform sought a weekday that honors the particulars of its idiom.
The American Thursday
The one American holiday that falls always on the same day of the week, Thanksgiving, exemplifies AUR’s vision of America as a coming together of people from different cultures. In a world of conflict, it is important to celebrate the moments of peace, community, and cooperation. In fact, this is the very expression of the virtue of Hope.
Thanksgiving is observed on Thursdays in the United States. Few Americans know, however, that the document marking the conception of the United States, the Declaration of Independence, was signed on a Thursday. (And, its first signatory, the infamous John Hancock, was a Unitarian!) Because the document bears the date, July 4 1776, we tend to remember this more than the weekday on which it was first signed.
Putting one’s name on the line for a moral cause is an act of moral courage, the very expression of Faith. In these two American Thursdays, the Reform finds twin expressions of virtue.
The Christian Thursday
But, what of the Unitarian Christian aspect of the Reform? When mainstream Christians celebrate “The Lord’s Day” (at least since Pope Ignatius first promoted the switch from Saturday to Sunday worship) they do so because Jesus rose on a Sunday. This fits well into the soteriology of “salvation by vicarious sacrifice,” in which Jesus’ suffering and resurrection is believed to ritually redeem humanity from punishment for our sins.
American Unitarian ministers, however, rejected the theory of vicarious sacrifice in favor of salvation by character in which the individual is saved by committing his or her own soul to good and moral behavior.
This is not (as some would dishonestly characterize it) “salvation by works” but salvation by the internal state of one’s soul, which Jesus emphasized during the Sermon on the Mount while expounding on anger, adultery, oaths, and retaliation. Jesus focused on inner commitment as the root of good works, and therein lies the essence of character: the life-changing decision to sacrifice self-obsession and become a better and wiser person.
(Quite ironically, the true “salvation by works” is salvation by testifying to vicarious sacrifice, the repetition of a ritual formula without true understanding, as if the act of confession has magical or sorcerous power.)
When did this decision, this selfless commitment of character, occur in the Easter story that gives mainstream Christians their Sunday worship? It took place on the Thursday of the Last Supper, in the Garden of Gethsemane, when Jesus begged God to spare him from impending death: “Take this cup from me.” Yet, immediately following this plea, Jesus accepted the contingency of his individual existence: “Nevertheless, Thy will be done.”
The final appearance of Jesus in the Gospel story — on his day of Ascension when Jesus delivered the Great Commission — traditionally is celebrated on Thursday. In other words, the moral pivot of the Gospel story and the very foundation of the Christian Church take place on Thursday.
Bringing Together Creator and Creation
The moral pivot of the American experience, the feast day of Thanksgiving, and its foundation are both Thursday events. Likewise the moral pivot of the Christian religion, the feast day at Gethsemane, and its foundation were both Thursday events.
As Christianity is our spiritual life, and America is the material context in which we live that life, American Reform Unitarians observe Thursday as a day of thanks, a day of inter-community cooperation, a day of standing against injustice, and for commiting our individual character to Higher Truth.