Scripture: Genesis 1:1-2:3
“And on the seventh day God finished the work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all the work that he had done.” ~ Genesis 2:2
When I was a child the Sabbath was a completely foreign concept – not because I didn’t enjoy rest and delight in play like any other child my age – but because as a millennial, for the majority of my life Sunday has not been a day of rest. By the time I was aware enough as a child, stores were open 7 days a week and activities like baseball, or hockey had begun to fill up Sunday mornings and afternoons.
Gone were the days when all you did on a Sunday was church and family time – Sunday had become at least in our corner of the world a day just like any other ready to be filled and scheduled to the hilt. Aside from holdouts like the Jewish community and other defined communities like the Amish, Sabbath as a day of rest passed from our cultural memory in the blink of an eye.
Though I think we lost our understanding of Sabbath long before the stores began to open and children’s activities began drawing people away from Sunday worship – Sabbath had become too restrictive, too legalistic. Too many rules about what you had to do (go to church all day) and what you couldn’t do (play with friends etc.). Rest with no delight, or wonder isn’t really rest at all.
Clearly neither extreme is particularly restful, and both I think are far from what God intended for Sabbath to be.
Over the next six weeks we will begin to explore what the Bible has to tell us about Sabbath. We will explore what rest means in the context of Sabbath; we will explore what it means for the Sabbath to give us freedom; we will explore the understanding of Sabbath as a gift from God; we will explore how Sabbath brings us feeling and finally we will learn how Sabbath gives us hope. But today we will start at the very beginning so to speak; today we will explore the root of where Sabbath comes from and hopefully begin to answer the question “Why Sabbath?”
Today our reading is from the very beginning of the Bible in the book of Genesis, the first 34 verses of the book to be exact, we heard the longer creation narrative outlining the seven days of creation.
Back in Sunday school you might have learned the seven days of creation using single images on the page. For the first day there would be just black and white – signifying God creating light. The second might have the skies with clouds in it. The third might be populated with trees. The fourth would be the sun and moon. The fifth would include birds in the skies and fish in the sea. The sixth would be populated with animals and Adam and Eve. But for the seventh what would you put? More often than not we would probably depict the seventh day with just a blank page. As if nothing was happening after all the frenetic activity of the previous six days.
I suppose it’s not shocking that we have a hard time depicting the seventh day, after all there only a mere 2 verses dedicated to the seventh day while each of the other days is given more time and space. It’s as if our forerunners in the faith also had a hard time imagining what to say or write about this day of divine rest, as if they too had left the canvas blank not knowing what it could mean for God to rest.
God resting is already a hard enough concept to wrap our heads around let alone describe or draw a picture – after all if God truly is the creator of the universe, through which all of Creation is sustained and renewed then God probably didn’t need to rest; God wasn’t so exhausted after 6 days of forming the entirety of the universe that he just dropped down from exhaustion and slept for 24 hours.
The truth is we don’t know what God’s rest looks like, but what we do know is that God chose to rest – it was a conscious choice to stop working, to delight in the Creation that God had made, to just stop and enjoy. God’s rest had purpose, it was not just a response to the busyness and exhaustion from creating the whole universe.
What is important to note is that the while Genesis paints a pretty picture of Creation being all finished up in a 6 day span, God is constantly creating constantly sustaining all life in the universe – so we shouldn’t think that God’s work was done – God’s work of creation, recreation and renewal is part of God’s identity – and yet despite the fact that there was always going to be more work to do God intentionally stopped. God paused. God rested and I think God probably delighted in the wonders of the new creation, just as a child delights in their new toy or creation after they have finished putting it together.
And because God rested, our text from Genesis says that God blessed the seventh day and made it holy. God wove this gift of rest, this gift of delight and refreshment into the very fabric of creation.
Whether you read the Creation story symbolically or more literally, the fact that a seventh of the whole Creation process is dedicated to rest and refreshment is huge and should give us pause to how important it is.
Rest is so important that God enshrined it in Creation itself, enshrined it in the very DNA of created things. Think of the seasons and the natural rhythms – trees losing their leaves in the fall, most plants lying dormant over the winter months as deep underground seeds prepare for the spring, new life bursting forth all around us in the spring and summer time.
Without dormancy trees and plants would ultimately die or at the very least be less productive. Without hibernation mammals in northern climates would die as food stocks dwindled. Without sleep humans function at far less than optimal capacity – just ask any parent of a new born baby how their mental capacity is after a night of no sleep! Rest is essential to the flourishing of life.
And yet I fear that we in our world has lost both the understanding for the need to rest and the ability to delight in it. We work and celebrate how busy we can be, we fill up our schedules, burning the candle at both ends believing that do so means we are successful and that we will somehow achieve happiness or at least contentment. And when we do rest, it’s either out of pure exhaustion or out of a sense of obligation with little delight or wonder to be found to just enjoy the world and the people around us.
We need to reclaim the natural patterns of work accompanied by delightful rest.
Work and delightful rest. Part of the rhythm of God’s very life, part of who he is.
Work and delightful rest. Part of the rhythm of a truly human life, part of who you are.
Work and delightful rest. Part of the rhythm of the church’s life, part of who we are.
As we participate in the rhythms of rest and refreshment, in the practice of Sabbath we are participating in something that is Holy, something that God blessed and offered to creation as a gift. By practicing Sabbath we begin to experience the divine life of God – just as God enjoyed the fruits of creation on the seventh day, we too can enjoy the fruits of our labours, the fruits of God’s good world, the fruits of all that Jesus opened for us on the cross and in his resurrection.
Learning the gift of Sabbath has so much to offer us – as individuals and as the church. It is embedded in who we are, in our actual physical DNA through God’s gift of creation and in the DNA of the Church. As we re-learn this vital gift we are able to reconnect with who we are and who God intends for us to be. As we learn to pause, refresh and develop healthy rhythms of work and delightful rest we are able savour all the benefits of this wondrous Creation, we are able to enjoy our life together, enjoy our families, our friends, even enjoy the work we do.
Over the next five weeks we will learn more of what God offers to us when we learn to pause, and rest. May we all know the gift of Sabbath in our lives, may we all come to experience the wonders of God’s very life that he has imbedded in the fabric of the universe. Perhaps, God willing we will find delight once more.
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