Celebrating the Sabbath: Sabbath and Creation

Read: Genesis 2:1-3


So God blessed the seventh day and hallowed it, because on it God rested from all the work that he had done in creation (Gen. 2:3 NRSV).

“It’s not all about you.”

This caustic comeback has become something of a cliché. Of course, the reason clichés become clichés is because so many people find them to be true.

“It’s not all about you” was never more true than with regard to the Bible’s first creation story in Genesis 1:1-2:4a. Contrary to most people’s assumptions, human beings are not the crown of creation. That honor goes to the Sabbath. The fact that so many of us are confused about that fact says a great deal about us.

But what can we say about Sabbath? At least with the other days of creation there are tangible results. Who can forget fruit trees, after all? And then there are the stars, the cattle, and the ever-popular swarming things. Each day is chock full of cool creations, and God seems positively chuffed at how well things have turned out.

When we get to the seventh day, however, the inventory seems to come to an abrupt end. “God rested,” it says. Our busy 21st-century brains hardly know how to picture this. Should we imagine God in an Adirondack chair drinking a micro-brew? That image might be less misleading than the boring blank canvas that is our typical impression of Sabbath.

Once again, the problem is not with the Sabbath itself, but with our misconceptions of it. When the medieval rabbi, Rashi, considered this conundrum, he suggested that the Sabbath was actually the last thing God created. Rather than an absence, menuha (rest) connotes a presence. It is not emptiness, but fullness. Imagine a sphere filled with tranquility, serenity, and peace. Imagine that God invites us into this sphere so that we can share that exquisite shalom with all the rest of God’s good creation. Imagine.

In his marvelous book, Living the Sabbath: Discovering the Rhythms of Rest and Delight, Norman Wirzba reminds us that Sabbath is far more than a “divine afterthought.” In his words, God’s rest “is not simply a cessation from activity but rather the lifting up and celebration of everything.”[1]

Suddenly Sabbath sounds not just attractive, but essential.

Many of us live like we are being chased by a train. We complete one task, but we can’t take time to celebrate because we are already late for our next deadline. Weeks go by, months, years, then decades. Like the Energizer Bunny, we keep going and going and going.

But hear the good news: it’s not all about us. It is about all creation, invited into a sphere of rest, tranquility, and delight.

Why on earth would we say no?

Prayer: Forgive us, O God, for rejecting your gift for so long. Show us how to enter your sphere of rest, tranquility, and delight.

[1] Norman Wirzba, Living the Sabbath: Discovering the Rhythms of Rest and Delight (Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2006), p. 33.


Introduction to the Celebrating the Sabbath series:

Why on earth would contemporary Christians want to explore what it means to celebrate the Sabbath? Even the word “Sabbath” sounds like something from another century. And for the most part, it is! To the extent that we hear the word at all any more, it’s used as an old-fashioned way of referring to Sunday—the “Sabbath Day.” Unless, of course, we have Jewish friends or live in close proximity to Jewish communities—in which case we may overhear an occasional “Shabbat Shalom” greeting on the way to the parking lot after work on a Friday afternoon. Or, if you’re like me, you may have found yourself puzzling over the “Sabbath” setting on your new stove. In all of these instances, Sabbath may strike us as something strange or old-fashioned—something that doesn’t have much to do with us as contemporary Christians.

Or worse, some people have negative associations with Sabbath. For them, it conjures up unhappy memories of rigid rules and endless hours stuck inside as a child—forbidden to play or make any noise. One woman told of how she first met her neighbor. On her first Sunday in their new house, she had put some clothes in the dryer. The next thing she knew there was a knock on the door. Her neighbor had come across the street to say that she’d noticed the steam coming out of the dryer vent and wondered if the newcomer had forgotten that it was the Sabbath Day!

Hopefully, stories like these are becoming things of the past. But just because Sabbath sounds like something from another century doesn’t mean we don’t need to recover God’s invitation to Sabbath for our own century. In fact, everything points to our desperate need to recover God’s well-designed rhythms of rest and delight. Thanks to the miracle of modern technology, our email is ever with us; friends and colleagues get testy when we don’t reply right away. Like Downton Abbey’s Dowager Countess we find ourselves wondering, “What is a week end?” Sporting events, grocery shopping, homework, television, and social engagements crowd into every “leisure” hour. And if we are at all involved in church we may experience Sundays as the most exhausting day of all.

In this series, we will explore the largely unopened gift Sabbath. Read it if you long to recover—or discover—God’s well-designed rhythms of rest and delight.