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The Day of Rest

April 14, 2018

Thus the heavens and the earth were completed in all their vast array.
By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done.
This is the account of the heavens and the earth when they were created, when the Lord God made the earth and the heavens.
Genesis 2:1-4
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Every time an artist or an artisan finishes his (or her) work, after many final touches, the moment comes where he washes his hands, and even takes off his work clothes and dedicates himself—including his collaborators or close friends, to contemplating the work in silence. He looks at it and admires it and possibly, if the work has been done with perfection, it is very likely that both the artist and the other people contemplate it in silence. After that silence, there follow the words, the comments and even praises and exclamations for having done a good job. The same happens with music, for example, concluding a concert. Everyone remains silent for a while until the music is extinguished and then they begin to applaud.
The silent pause at the end of a wonderful work of art or music is like the end point at the end of a sentence and is part of the perfect enjoyment of what has been achieved.

God’s creation can be compared to a wonderful piece of art or music. God himself realized that what he had created in six days was very good. Now, the only thing that was missing was the silent rest at the end, the seventh day, the day of rest. The account of Creation says:
“By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work.”
Rest at the end brings the work of creation to perfection. It is not that God has been inactive since. His creative work continues, with each flower, each butterfly and each baby. However, the Creator after the day of rest remains as active as before the day of rest: Before the day of rest that created the world from nothing, and with it created the natural laws by which all things must work together. After the day of rest, His creation continues through these natural laws or within the framework of these natural laws (unless He performs a miracle, as an exception).
God’s day of rest represents a break in his work; the “work of art” of the first Creation has faded. Of course, this general pause is still part of the rhythm of the work of creation; it is counted as the seventh day. Of course, God could have made the world slower, or faster, with a snap of his fingers. But He has created a great rhythm for our world and especially for us humans with these seven days: the rhythm of the week.

This rhythm is not only wonderful in itself as a great work of art, but it is also good and useful for us humans. When it is said that God “rested” on the seventh day after the six days of creation, the Hebrew word “Shabbat” means “rest” in its original text. Or in English, “Sabbath” means nothing other than “day of rest” – a day of rest; a “celebration” in the original sense of the word. By the way, this type of celebration is also expressed in the English word “Holidays” (Holy Day); God has also created this: with the rhythm of day and night, he created half a day to work and another to rest; In connection with this, he has also created our human need to sleep. Just as a person should stop working and rest at night, after six working days, we are supposed to have a day of rest.

This order in creation was later confirmed in the third commandment of God and Martin Luther summed it up in the following way in the Small Catechism:
“We should fear and love God so that we do not despise preaching His Word, but hold it sacred and gladly hear and learn it.”
The original text was presented to Moses by God on Mount Sinai and it is longer:
“Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns. For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.” (Exodus 20: 8-11).

We see that even in the third commandment, the Sabbath is not spoken as such, but rather as part of the rhythm of the week: Six days of work, one day for rest. God gave us an example for establishing this day as a day of rest, the seventh day of creation. And the two words “bless” and “sanctify” are not missing: “God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it (or made it holy).” “To bless” means “Give away, or grant.” The day of rest after six work days is a gift from God; we are happy and grateful that we do not have to behave like machines all the time, but that we can enjoy the tranquility of the seventh day.
We are grateful for this heavenly and wise schedule, for the daily rest and the night of sleep.
If God had not given us the blessing of rest, many hard-working people would feel compelled to work for seven days, and employers would not see why they should release their employees over the weekend. But from God’s gift also come from God’s command: He not only blessed the seventh day for us, but also sanctified it, that is, set it apart. He has done it with the purpose of remembering his ingenious and wise weekly rhythm and, on our part, to sanctify the seventh day, to separate it, and to spend it in a different way than the working days. By the way, God’s blessing and sanctification apply to all the commandments: because God’s instructions are beneficial to us, he expects us to abide by them. The same applies to prayer and participation in Holy Communion. These are also gifts from God that we should not despise and disrespect; rather, we must remember them and use them advantageously and properly.

Back to the subject of the Sabbath: What does it mean in practice, to sanctify the day of rest? Should we lie in bed all day? Or are we allowed to go on trips and play sports? Or do we have to go to church? Is it possible to do light work if it is not a way to make a living, but rather a hobby? What did God Himself do when He finished creation? Or did he really do nothing? Please, do not expect from me for a concrete answer!
We would misunderstand God and his day of rest if we thought that it was about observing certain exact rules of the Sabbath. Jesus explained what it is all about and summarized it. He said:
“The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.” (Mark 2:27).
We should not ask: what is allowed and what is not allowed? But we should ask: What would be good for us, what would be best for us and our fellow people for the improvement of body and soul on that day?
It has been clear to believers of all times that communion with the Word of God, prayer and worship is an excellent means of rest for the soul or the spirit; therefore, Sunday service should not be neglected without a serious reason; not simply to please God or the pastor, but above all, as a favour to oneself. God blessed the day of rest and sanctified it, and we sanctify it (make it holy) by following God’s example and resting from daily work and giving our soul the greatest blessing that exists: the Word of God and Holy Communion.

Jews and Seventh-day Adventists always celebrate their weekly day of rest on Saturdays. There is nothing wrong with that, because that is what corresponds to the ancient Jewish tradition. Traditionally, our days of the week were also counted in the same way: Sunday was the first day of the week. Saturday was the seventh or last day of the week, and therefore served as a day of rest according to the example set by God in creation. But because the week is a cycle, you can start counting on any day. We could agree and say: let’s always start the week on Tuesday; then Monday would be our seventh day or day of rest or Sabbath; for God it would be just as right. The Colossians clearly say:
“Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day” (Col. 2:16).
Modern society allows the week to start on Monday with the first business day, then Sunday is the seventh day, our Christian day of rest.

However, our Sunday tradition is much older than the modern working week. Nor is it a coincidence or an arbitrary decision that Sunday has become popular in Christianity as a sacred day. As early as the fourth century, the Roman emperor Constantine declared Sunday as a national holy-day in his empire, and in New Testament times, Christians gathered for worship services on Sunday, the first day of the week according to traditional Jewish customs. The reason for the change: Jesus rose from the dead on the first day of the week — since then Christians celebrate this great event every Sunday: Jesus, the light of the world, has overcome the power of death and enlightens us with the eternal light of God. Exactly a week later he appeared to the Apostle Thomas, also on a Sunday; we heard it in today’s Gospel. And exactly seven weeks, or fifty days after Christ’s resurrection, the Holy Spirit came upon the apostles, at Pentecost; that also happened on a Sunday. Isn’t this a reason to celebrate, the weekly celebration of the new covenant that Christ has given us!

We Christians no longer celebrate the seventh day like Judaism, the Sabbath (for us Saturday now), but the first day of the week, Sunday. On this day we think of the resurrection of our Lord; because according to the Gospel report the women came to the tomb of Jesus on the first day of the week and found it empty (Mk 16: 2) That is why the ancient church named this day “The Lord’s Day” (Dominus Dei). Each Sunday is a small festival of Easter. Some see in this change a great meaning: in the Resurrection of Christ a new creation begins and we do not celebrate the conclusion of the old creation but of the new one. Like for the people of Israel the rest from work and confession to God shaped the Sabbath, these two main points still remain on our Sunday: “Rest from work and Worship to God”. During the worship service the congregation thinks of God’s great works. If for the Old Testament the Sabbath was the liberation from bondage of slavery in Egypt, in the New Testament it is liberation from sin and death. That is why we announce in every service to Christ and His Church as a reason for joy, hope and new life. Amen

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