You know, there’s an old, old poem – a song really – that tells of this ancient rhythm. It goes like this…
In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.
And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. And there was evening, and there was morning – the first day.
And God said, “Let there be a dome separating the waters above from the waters below.” God called the dome “sky.” And there was evening, and there was morning – the second day.
And God said, “Let the waters be gathered to one place and let the dry ground appear.” And the ground sprang forth with plants and vegetation. And there was evening, and there was morning – the third day.
And God said, “Let there be lights in the sky that separate the day from the night.” And God made the sun, the moon, and the stars. And there was evening, and there was morning – the fourth day.
And God said, “Let the waters and the sky be filled with all kinds of animals.” And fish filled the waters and birds filled the sky. And there was evening, and there was morning – the fifth day.
And God said, “Let the land produce living creatures.” And all kinds of creatures and wild animals lived upon the land. And then God said, “Let us make humanity in our image.” So God created human beings in his own image; male and female he created them. And there was evening, and there was morning – the sixth day.
God looked upon all he had made and saw that it was good. So God finished his creation on the seventh day, because on the seventh day, God created rest.
And this “rest” echoes throughout the entirety of creation. Just like a measure of rest in music, this pause in the rhythm of creation does not mean that the song of life has ended. No, indeed this time of rest creates a rhythm to our existence. We work and we rest; we work and we rest. Our lungs breath in and out, in and out. Our hearts beat in steady time. We sleep and we wake. This rhythm is a sign of life. If you think about it, we are kept alive by rhythm, so much so that we even call them “biorhythms,” quite literally “rhythms of life.”
But our biorhythms don’t have to stop completely for us to show signs of illness. No, we can have this thing called “arrhythmia,” when our bodies literally exist out of rhythm. Even if you’ve never experienced a physical arrhythmia, I bet many of you have suffered from what we might call a spiritual arrhythmia. You devote too much of your time and energy to producing, working, and doing and too little of yourself to peace, rest, and the enjoyment of God’s creation. Personally, there have been times in my life when I’ve worked so hard and for so long that I was actually thanking God when I would get sick just so I could have a couple of days off. What a crazy thought! That we would be so consumed with work that we would confuse sickness with actual rest. You see, what we don’t realize is that our obsession with work and our inability to rest does not make us some sort of superhuman. It actually in some ways makes us less than human. Rest is a part of who we are as human creatures, so when we neglect that rest, we are neglecting a central part of what it means to be fully human.
We as human creatures are not created to spend every waking moment working. And I understand how that can be confusing. I mean, we read the song of creation in Genesis 1 and it says we are made in the image and likeness of God. Well surely that means that we are created to be creative and productive creatures, right? I mean, after all, God spends all of Genesis 1 creating and working. If we, then, are truly created in God’s image, surely we too must be known by our work. But you see the ancient Jewish rabbis had another way of reading the text. The ancient Jewish teachers believed that the purpose of each creature of creation was revealed by what they did first – fish for the water, birds for the sky, and beasts for the land. But what do human creatures do first? Well, humans were created at the end of sixth day so one could presume that the first thing human creatures did was sleep through the night and then wake up to enjoy a day of rest in the full presence of God their Creator.
We were created for rest. Sure there is virtue in our work. But the fullness of our humanity, the purpose of our existence is found in our rest from that work. This is God’s Good News for his people! This is God restoring the rhythm of rest in his good creation. And this rest is not only offered to human creatures, no this rest is offered to all of creation – even your ox, donkey, and livestock are commanded to rest. This is a rest that is all encompassing. This is a deliverance that echoes throughout all of creation. This is the gift of God’s salvation!