“And on the seventh day God finished the works He made, and He rested on the seventh day from all the works He made. Then God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it, because in it He rested from all His works God began to make.” (OSB)
Try to imagine what life would be like without the 7-day week as a structuring element of our life. That alone reveals how thoroughly indebted our society is to the divine religion & polity of Israel, fulfilled now in the life of Christ and the Church. The 7-day week, and the observance of Sabbath (Saturday) rest, based in God’s own creative work (cf. Exod 20.8-11), was one of the primary means by which Jews were to be distinguished from the Gentiles. It is no wonder, then, that when pagan tyrants like Antiochus Epiphanes (2nd cent. BC) attacked Jewish separation and distinctiveness, the observance of Sabbath rest was a prime target:
People could neither keep the sabbath, nor observe the festivals of their ancestors, nor so much as confess themselves to be Jews (2 Maccabees 6.6)
What the Sabbath was pointing to all along, however, was a whole understanding of history, the mystery of which is fully revealed in Christ. God’s “rest” in Genesis 2 is not, properly speaking, a cessation of activity (cf. Jn 5.17), but rather a taking up of residence in the cosmos He has prepared as His own Temple dwelling.
Arise, O Lord, into thy rest; thou, and the ark of thine holiness. (Psalm 131.8)
Thus says the Lord: Heaven is My throne and earth is the footstool of My feet. What kind of house will you would build for me? Or what sort of place is [there for] my rest? (Isaiah 66.1)
Do I not fill heaven and earth? says the Lord. (Jer 23.24)
Christ’s life and ministry, whose formal beginning is in the Baptism in the Jordan, is God’s re-creative work which culminates in Jesus’ Sabbath rest on Holy Saturday. This, too, is not a cessation of activity, but rather is when Christ descends into Hades as a conquering king to ransom and redeem those held captive there by Death. This descent into the lowest parts of creation is the first movement, followed by Christ’s resurrection and ascent to the right hand of the Father, by which Christ “fills all things” (Eph 4.8-11), “reconciling to Himself” and “gathering up in Himself all things whether in heaven or on earth” (Eph 1.10; Col 1.20).
That is, in Christ’s person and work, His Cross, Sabbath rest, Resurrection, and Ascent, God reclaims—takes up residence in—all of creation as His cosmic Temple. In this, we and all of creation are brought into the Eighth Day, Sunday, the Day of Resurrection, Re-Creation.
And yet, while the eternal “rest” God offers us in His Kingdom has already begun in some way, it is still something we must strive to enter (Hebrews 3-4), as we make the arduous journey back from exile, through the wilderness of our passions, cultivating repentance and the virtues, until we by God’s grace return to the house of the Father, the Heavenly Jerusalem.
~ By Reader Justin Gohl