Seeing Rest As A Gift (And Not Feeling Guilty About It)

Musings on the Practice of Keeping a Sabbath (Part 2 of a 5-part series)        

          On my first visit to the Space Needle in Seattle, I was amazed by the view. It was a beautiful, clear day and one could see the Olympic mountains to the west, the Cascades to the east, Mt. Baker to the north, and Mt. Rainier to the southeast. Some months later, I visited the Space Needle again. It was partly cloudy, but all the aforementioned mountain views were just as extraordinary this time. What stood out on this particular visit, however, was something humorous that I observed inside the observation deck.

         Just a few feet away from the elevator was a penny-masher machine. After putting a penny into this contraption and feeding it an additional 25 cents, one is able to turn a crank, which mashes the penny into a concave metal oval such that, while the penny has lost its monetary value, it does now bear an imprint of the Space Needle logo. Standing around this machine were some young boys who were completely enamored with the penny mashing process. As I walked by them, I could not help but notice their awe of this machine, while, just behind them, was the beautiful Puget Sound and the majestic snow covered Olympic mountain range in the distance, grand sights which meant nothing to these boys when compared to the thrill of reshaping a one cent coin.

         Modern-day American Christians have spent a great deal of well-intentioned energy considering the details of the creation story as told in the first chapter of Genesis. But, for all our efforts, we may have unwittingly missed something of the grandeur that lies before us in that story. In reading the Creation story from Genesis 1:1-2:3, we might ought to notice some astounding details that, heretofore, perhaps just haven’t seemed worthy of our attention.

         Now, to be sure, many students of the Bible have rightly taken note that what set the sixth day of creation (the day that God created man in his own image) apart from the other days of creation is the fact that God evaluated his work as “very good”:

         31 And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day. (Genesis 1:31 - ESV)

         However, we can easily miss the crescendo of the creation story of Genesis 1 that is found in the description of the seventh day in Genesis 2:1-3:

         1 Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them. 2 And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done. 3 So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation. (ESV)

         For all that we notice about what sets the sixth day apart from the other five days of creation, we typically miss what sets the seventh day apart from the previous six days:  “… God blessed the seventh day and made it holy”.

         No other day receives God’s blessing, and no other day is made holy. In other words, God set that one day apart and commanded Israel to also set that day apart as holy (Exodus 20:8-11). For the Church, of course, with the resurrection of Jesus having taken place on a Sunday, the day for worship and rest changed to what the New Testament refers to as the “Lord’s Day”, the first day of the week.

         Many Christians tend to eschew the significance of the Sabbath, and they are relentlessly encouraged in that regard by an increasingly rest-less (and tired) society around them. What many Christians have lost is the rhythm of ceasing from work and recognizing one day as set apart and different from all the others. The grandeur that Christians have lost in the process is a God-given means for ongoing physical and spiritual restoration. Ironically, we can have that recurring restoration back, not by something we do, but by something we decide to cease from doing – specifically, those many activities that we are busy with all the other six days of the week.

         Why do we resist such ceasing and resting? A prevailing thought among many Christians is that we wouldn’t want to be legalistic about a day... After all, when we read in the Gospels of someone disputing with Jesus over what he was doing on the Sabbath, doesn’t it usually have to do with a legalistic approach to the Sabbath? To some extent, yes, but at the heart of such Gospel conversations is Jesus’ desire that his hearers better understand the immense value of the Sabbath day, rather than dismiss it altogether!:

         “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. 28 So the Son of Man is lord even of the Sabbath.” (Mark 2:27-28 - ESV)

So, ask yourself:

Do you see the Sabbath as a gift?

Do you treat the Sabbath as something valuable (and even holy)?

If not, what would such a holy day, given as a gift, look like to the extent that it might even become your favorite day of the week?

         If the Sabbath is so prominent in the creation story, then it has a great deal to say to us about how we, as human beings, made in the image of God, are designed to live. And if we don’t live as we are designed to live, then we will inevitably sense (in mind, body and soul) that something is really not as it should be.