Time is the first thing marked holy in Scripture. After all of the light and darkness, land and sea, stars and moon, birds and sea creatures, after all that God created and saw and called good, God rests, and the time itself is marked as holy.
When God gives Israel a set of commands to shape a way of life, he commands the observance of rest. “Remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy.” In the list of holy things they are to protect—human life, created goods, our relationships, our neighbors’ relationships and goods and lives—time is listed too. Protect the holiness of time.
We might even say that Jesus remembered the Sabbath on Holy Saturday. Resting in the tomb, he hallowed time again.
Time is holy. Rest is holy. The current North American culture doesn’t believe this. And don’t get me started on how much academic culture doesn’t believe this. Or, if they do, they hide it well. In this year of pandemic, I dare say we have even, in some ways, gotten worse. Whenever we try to carry on with the standards and expectations we have always had, even though we now have fewer people to help or more pieces to consider or changes to make in order to meet new safety restrictions, the result is that maintaining what we had been doing takes more work than it ever has. Yet we continue trying to meet those same standards, whether self-imposed or given to us by authorities. In some cases, extra burdens have been added. In order to stop students from traveling and potentially contracting the virus, schools have canceled breaks.
So I write in defense of rest. I encourage you, dear reader, to remember the Sabbath.
I admit to my bias here. I have been practicing Sabbath—a full day of rest every week—for nearly fifteen years. I backed into the practice, but it has changed my life and shaped my relationship to time and work for the better. This includes having practiced during college, seminary, and a doctoral program, so what I suggest can be done.
Exodus and Deuteronomy provide two different reasons for remembering the Sabbath and keeping it holy. Exodus 20:8–11 tells Israel to remember Sabbath because God rested on the seventh day after six days of creating work. The practice of Sabbath rest is commanded because God himself rested. When we rest, we imitate God and live in the order and rhythms that God established. Deuteronomy 5:12–15 tells Israel to remember Sabbath because God brought them out of slavery in Egypt. They are no longer slaves, so they need to not act like slaves. They need to rest sometimes.
I think of these two reasons as a command to rest because we need to remember two things: (1) We are not God. (2) We are not slaves. Humility and freedom. First, we rest in order to ground ourselves in humility. We need to remember that we do not keep the universe running. We can take a day off in the week, and the world will not stop spinning. We are not the center of the universe. God rested. God. The one who actually does keep the universe running. Resting embraces our limitations as created beings. By stopping, we both acknowledge our finiteness and live within the limits God gave us for our flourishing. Think about this: Taking a nap is an act of humility and an embrace of creatureliness.
Second, we celebrate our freedom. We are not slaves. Christ freed us at the most fundamental level from sin and death, and that means we have also been freed from everything else that is outside of God’s order. In short, we are not slaves to our work. You, dear seminarian, are not a slave to your homework. You, dear professor, are not a slave to your next deadline (or even to your grading). You, dear pastor, are not a slave to every demand of your congregants. You, dear reader, are not a slave. Slaves cannot choose to rest. You can. In this context, choosing to have ice cream on a Sunday afternoon can be an act of celebration. Playing frisbee for an hour is an act of resistance to the slavish order of the 24/7 world, a declaration of freedom in Christ.
It takes commitment, but life with rest is infinitely better than life without it. Rest is part of God’s created order for the universe and facilitates human flourishing. It is humility and freedom. It brings joy, refreshment, attunement to God (for how can a person hear God if she is always busy?). Rest is part of the rhythm God intended. So put this down and go rest awhile.