I think our culture has taken hostage the idea of the Sabbath, and in doing so, we have completely missed the ultimate purpose God has for the day of rest.
Our church has focused on the final week of Christ throughout the period of Lent. Which means we preached a sermon on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Saturday. Of all the days, one of the most unique days to preach on was Saturday. What happened on Saturday, between Jesus’ death and resurrection? Why the extra day? Why is that day so silent? Why is the world forced to wait till Sunday for Jesus to come back from the dead?
Well, there are a lot of thoughts on this, and Paul does an excellent job of unpacking this in his sermon for Saturday (you can listen to it here.)
But I am tempted to reflect on this from the perspective of the Sabbath.
In the first chapter of Genesis, we see God develop a rhythm: God works six days and rests on the seventh. Humans are created to be the cultivators of creation, and as such are invited to live a similar pattern.
In Genesis, we see a world that is ripe with potential. Animals need named, communities built, and the garden developed. Cultivation is work, and the kind of work that never ends. So in a world where there is always more to do, we are told to stop working every six days.
This seven-day rhythm is significant in the passion story. Jesus dies on Good Friday, and declares his work to be finished. On Saturday, there is silence. Then on the first day of the week, Sunday, Jesus comes back from the dead.
The early church would call the Sunday of resurrection the eighth day, because it was not just the start of another week, but the restart of the entire creation process. God was making a new world. The resurrection was the start of a new order. It’s like the created world was rebooted.
This is the power of the resurrection. The eighth day.
So why was God silent on Saturday, between Good Friday and Easter? I’m hesitant to suggest this, but it seems rather obvious: maybe God is silent on Saturday because it was the Sabbath. What if God was resting? That’s as scary to think about as it is heretical to suggest, and yet, isn’t this what we read in the Genesis creation narrative? “On the seventh day God rested.”
And isn’t this what we see when God feeds the children of Isreal with manna in Exodus 16?
Each morning everyone gathered as much as they needed, and when the sun grew hot, it melted away. On the sixth day, they gathered twice as much. He said to them, “This is what the Lord commanded: ‘Tomorrow is to be a day of sabbath rest, a holy sabbath to the Lord. So bake what you want to bake and boil what you want to boil. Save whatever is left and keep it until morning.’”
So they saved it until morning, as Moses commanded, and it did not stink or get maggots in it. “Eat it today,” Moses said, “because today is a sabbath to the Lord. You will not find any of it on the ground today. Six days you are to gather it, but on the seventh day, the Sabbath, there will not be any.”
They had to work extra hard on the sixth day so that they had food on the seventh, because not only were they commanded to rest, but God was going to rest as well. God wouldn’t be providing manna on the seventh day.
Moses makes this painfully clear:
Bear in mind that the Lord has given you the Sabbath; that is why on the sixth day he gives you bread for two days. Everyone is to stay where they are on the seventh day; no one is to go out.” So the people rested on the seventh day.
We often think of rest as a positive. In our overworked world, we think of a day to relax as a day of pleasure and joy. We think of rest as a good thing. And it’s true, rest is good, but it can also be painful, especially if it feels like God is resting. Especially if it feels like we slept through the Friday gathering and now on Saturday, we’re starving. “Where is God? He promised to provide! Why is there no manna? How can the Sabbath be a day of rest if I don’t have the daily food I was promised?”, we might ask.
Our culture has made the Sabbath a slave to pleasure.
Allyssa and I recently went on a cruise. If you’ve ever been on a cruise, then you know that every single one of your needs is met by a kind staff member. They work hard to bring you your food, clean your room, and make sure you have everything you need to relax and rest. It’s tempting to think of rest in this sort of way, but God’s rest doesn’t look like this. God’s rest isn’t the kind of rest that someone else has to work hard at. When the Sabbath is observed, everyone rests. Everything stands still. Everyone waits for life to begin again.
Sabbath rest is a boring, low-impact kind of rest. It’s less about having something done for you and more about nothing happening in general. It’s less about going on a Cruise, and more about sitting in a room silent. Everything stops, not just your work. And I think that’s why God even appears to stop.
On the Sabbath, after six days of creation, God is silent.
This doesn’t mean that God isn’t taking care of us. On the Sabbath, God gives us our “daily bread” the day before. The Sabbath reminds us that when God seems silent, we must rely on what God has already given us. And hopefully we didn’t sleep through the Friday gathering. This, more than anything, is what we are reminded every week we rest. God created the world with seasons of waiting; it’s a part of it’s natural rhythm.
We love Saturdays if it means rest for us, but we hate them if it means waiting for God. Yet the rest God calls us to is always a time of waiting. We have work to do, things to accomplish, a world to care for, and yet we are commanded to stop: to find rest in the midst of an unfinished world. We can get mad at God for feeling distant and the work unfinished, or we can rest, knowing that God created us to rest even when everything seems to be standing still.
It’s tempting to think of rest as a chance to relax and enjoy life, but what if rest was also the beautiful agony of waiting for life to begin again?