The Sabbath Day: Rest and Freedom

What does it mean to rest? Many of us think that resting means taking time off to do nothing. Some people refer to resting as 'vegging out', which means laying on the couch without moving or doing anything. Often, resting is something much more active than that. Resting does not simply mean stopping what we were doing, but it means actively pursuing things that rejuvenate us.

From the beginning of God's creation, a day has been set aside for rest. That day is the seventh day of the week: the Sabbath day. In the Ten Commandments, God commands his people to keep the Sabbath day as a day of rest: "Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God," (Ex. 20:8-10).

The Sabbath day has its basis in two great events in the history of salvation. The first is God's own rest on the seventh day after he finished his act of creation. This is the reason for the Sabbath day that Moses is given when he receives the Ten Commandments: "In six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy," (Ex. 20:11). The fact that the Creator of the universe set aside time to rest tells us that we should never feel ashamed for needing time to recuperate. Rest is something that is not merely human, but divine.

The second reason for the Sabbath day is the liberation of the people of Israel from their slavery in Egypt. In the book of Deuteronomy, we read that this is the basis for the Sabbath day: "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," (Deut. 5:15). The Sabbath day is not merely a day of rest, it is also a day of liberation.

You often hear the claim that Sunday has become the Christian Sabbath day. This is completely false. Sunday is the Lord's day, the day of the resurrection. The Sabbath day for Christians is what it has always been: Saturday. In his death and burial, our Lord Jesus Christ reveals to us the ultimate meaning of the Sabbath day. On Great and Holy Saturday, Jesus' body rested in the grave, while his spirit took up the great work of liberating all who were held captive in Hades. Rest, and freedom. The Sabbath day finds its completion.

Let us set time apart from our busy lives to rest, as our Lord has commanded us. Let our resting not be a time of simple inactivity, but a time in which we actively seek out and take hold of the freedom that Jesus Christ offers to us. Let our resting refresh us and bring us closer to our Lord, so that we can learn in our hearts the truth of the words of St. Sophrony of Essex: "There is only one real servitude— the servitude of sin— and one real freedom, which is resurrection in God."