Observe the sabbath day and keep it holy, as the Lord your God commanded you… Remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God brought you out from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm; therefore the Lord your God commanded you to keep the sabbath day.
(Deuteronomy 5:12, 15)
One thing we need to get straight: God’s rest is not about “recharging”, “recalibrating” or “resetting” yourself like some machine. In fact, that’s the opposite of true rest. God commands us to rest for today’s sake, and today’s alone.
What does it mean for us to rest? It means to finally take the time to just be you, putting aside everything that is forced upon you by the necessities of life, and actually enjoying life for exactly what it is at this moment. When we rest, we’re not existing for some external or future purpose. We are for our own sakes.
When the Israelites were slaves in Egypt, they were given no rest. Even their eating, drinking and sleeping, were to make them work better for Pharaoh. Everything they did, everything they were, was a mere tool for some supposed greater good.
But when the Lord liberated Israel, He commanded them to be free. No matter what may happen, whatever worries or troubles came their way, they could never lose sight of the freedom the Lord gave them, to simply be. This rest, this freedom, is the point and purpose of the Exodus, of all of salvation history, of all life, and in fact, of all things.
True rest is so absolutely crucial, that viewed from any other perspective, it is completely pointless. That is, rest is so divine, that like God Himself, it has no cause but itself.
In God’s creating of the Heavens and the Earth, God repeatedly takes time at the end of the day to “see that it was good”. Then on the Sabbath, God rests. On the Sabbath, when all is said and done, God simply enjoys His creation.
He did not work hard for six days in order to improve His work on the seventh, and then the eighth and so on. When His “work week” was over, He didn’t want to take the fruits of His labour and reinvest it immediately for an even better creation come day eight. He made the whole of creation for its own sake:all of creation, is created to rest, with Him and in Him.
At the burning bush, God reveals Himself to Moses as YHWH, “I AM THAT I AM”/”I SHALL BE WHAT I SHALL BE”. God thus reveals Himself to us as the One that is entirely unconditional, undefinable, and uncontrollable; the One Who simply IS; the One Who gives being to all that is. So it should not surprise us, that the One who tradition calls “Being Itself” desires above all, that all things should simply be what they are. He is not something separate, but your very being, and for you to be, is for you to do His will, to make Him present.
If you’re wondering how anything could conceivably be anything but what it is, the answer is what we call “sin”. Sin is the denial of being/truth/life/God Himself. That is, the truth of what something is, is denied, and something else is imposed upon it from outside. Sin is to make the world, and so ourselves, empty, unreal, lifeless and Godless. Everything is reduced to the will and its power to dominate the lifeless universe it inhabits. Life is a great war fought without reason. Essentially, sin is oppression.
So we see, that true rest is the opposite not of work, but of sin. Rest restores us to us, and in doing so, restores us to God, who is closer to us than we are to ourselves.
Rest means dancing
To rest is to throw away every plan, every aim, and every objective, and fully live as you are. If you find within yourself singing, you must sing! If you find within yourself dancing, you must dance! However you find the life & love that are you within yourself, you must obey! Even if it will exhaust you.
This obedience is much more difficult to cultivate than you might have thought. Our modern world has us all caught up with programs and fulfilling our desires, and has no time for the utter pointlessness that is rest. At this point, chasing after desire has become a second nature to most people, and to stop can cause real stress. We can get so immersed, that we become genuinely afraid of having any truly free time, in case we miss out on something, or realise just how unfulfilled we still are, even after all our striving.
Because it’s so difficult to cultivate true rest, and especially to cultivate it across a whole society (since societies, like people, are made to rest and be free), we desperately need the Sabbath. It’s not enough to rest as a side note, or whenever we get a spare moment.
Rest needs to be recognised as the priority that it is. We need the day, which exists entirely to itself, without even the necessities of life intruding. They can wait, because today, God commands me to dance.
And yet, I cannot spend all my time dancing and never work–but then again, true rest is the opposite of sin, and so should be sought always. It is true that not every day should be treated as the Sabbath, but the Sabbath should infiltrate the whole week, training us to live our entire lives at rest. All our work, all our strivings, all our aims, should be undertaken from the love & life that is within us, and done and enjoyed for their own sakes. We must accept all as a gift from God, and do all as a gift to Him and to all.
“Work without love is slavery.”
-St. Teresa of Calcutta
‘Come to me all you who labour and are overburdened, and I will give you rest. Shoulder my yoke and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. Yes, my yoke is easy and my burden light.’
What rest does Jesus give? His rest is Himself, His love, His cross, His Resurrection. In Him, we find the truth of ourselves, obscured in us by sin, and we are restored to ourselves, to the world, and to God. We are united to God, through the cross and Resurrection, and rest perfectly with God Himself.
God bless you!