Last week I wrote a rambling exposition of some of the features of Genesis chapter one, but to keep to a reasonable length I didn’t attempt any application.
I thought I’d take some time to tease out these ideas in a little more depth what that means for our lives.
I’ve written previously that rest is not relaxation but is about stopping to realise that you’re a creature. Rest is not recharging, as though we were mechanical units with batteries, but about realising that we are not God and cannot carry on without stopping. Resting gives us more energy because when we work as we are designed to, we work better.
Rest is settling into the order we have made with our hands; or being in the ‘right place’, which is the place that God has placed us, that we have then formed carefully and diligently out of the chaos by the sweat of our brow. Or at least, that’s what rest is for now.
As we pursue our daily work we search for rest, and we choose to rest one day in seven to enjoy the fruits of our labours. Work is not the opposite of rest, though they are different things. The opposite of rest is the curse.
Our future is rest, and our future involves work, so we should stop thinking of them as concepts in opposition to each other. Before the Lord cursed us and commanded the ground to fight us back, it did not resist. Our labours in the age to come will be easy, and our successes surprising beyond our abilities.
It’s only after the curse that we need to let the ground rest from its labour (in Hebrew, literally ‘slavery’) in order to keep being its master. This practice is supposed to teach us to co-operate with the land as we grow up into wisdom and the knowledge of good and bad. When the earth enters its Sabbath rest we will still work the ground, but as Jon Collins likes to say, it will be the equivalent of dropping seed on the ground by accident and the ground springing forth into glorious abundance wherever they fell. Our productive activity won’t be laborious, but joyous. To cease is to experience a taste of the joyousness of age to come.
If the farming metaphors don’t work for you, imagine work that does. In your bridge-building or story-telling, your song-writing or city-administering, the ground will not fight back. Everything will flow as it is supposed to, as though creation were a harmonious whole that worked together to achieve your ends. Because it will be.
When we rest, we are learning to be people of the kingdom, people who live under Jesus’ rule and reign. We are ruled by time to teach us to be ruled by Jesus.
I’m using the terms Lord’s Day and Sabbath fairly interchangeably, but for clarity: Jesus is our Sabbath and he has inaugurated the world’s rest in his resurrection. The new creation is our true day of stopping. We then celebrate this as a discipline—not a ‘law’—in our one day in seven rest.
Which means, keeping the Lord’s Day is not about having your day off to recover from your week, but living according to divine time. It’s about centring the people of God and the presence of God. It’s about gathering to worship in preaching, song, water, and wine, and gathering to delight around a table with meat and more wine.
You shouldn’t be doing it on your own. You and your immediate family is not the ‘sabbath’ as it was intended, this is an expansive rite that we share in together to say that we are the people of rest. When we speak of rest, we cannot speak of it as something insular or middle-classed that only some of us can aspire to. It can’t be me in my bubble, it can’t be something you can only do if you’re rich, it should be expansive, hospitable and something you work hard for six days to achieve. Those of us with resource should pull in those without.
As Christians we rest on the first day of the week, to celebrate that creation’s sabbath rest has begun with the resurrection of the firstborn of the dead, to be completed on a future seventh day. We begin our week by resting. We’re so secularised we don’t think like that, but we should. Whether we call our Sunday meeting a service, or a celebration, or a plain old meeting, that’s where our rest starts: God’s people together to worship God.
Rest involves Christian community. First it involves eating the Supper—eating the from the tree of life, and the tree of good and bad, the most Edenic thing we can do—then it’s the rest of the gathered worship of the church, then its getting around the table together.
In my Christian circles it’s often taught that the Biblical commands to rest are for us to portion a part of our week to do things that refresh you and bring you life. That’s good wisdom, but it’s not wisdom we can pull from the Sabbath commands, so let’s not call that ‘rest’. Rest is often taught by pastors for pastors, and requires both a Saturday and a Sunday from you. It’s meant to be one day a week, not two. If you’re reading a Christian book and wondering, “when am I meant to do my DIY, or my food shop” then I think you’re asking the right question. Sadly most of the books that are otherwise good on resting assume that their readers are like them.
It’s terrifying enough to stop for one day, our culture thinks it stops for two but in our secularised sabbaths doesn’t actually stop at all. To stop is scary, we have to trust that the Lord will provide. Most of my readers are likely to be wealthy enough that the fears aren’t for finance, but instead for time. Which is the whole point.
To keep the sabbath, or the Lord’s Day, will require that we fence some things, and decide that we don’t do this or that on the day of rest. This is why wise societies often have Sunday trading laws, for instance. But, even saying that, for Christians the Sabbath is not a law but an invitation. You can wallow in grace and do whatever you like, but we’re offered a gift of growing up and learning the wisdom of restraint. A gift of stopping, a gift of rest.
And we’re offered it again every week. Every week a taste, in all its sin-marked imperfections, but a taste nonetheless, of the age to come. A taste of heaven.
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