Genesis 2:2,3 By the seventh day God completed His work which He had done, and He rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had done. Then God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it, because in it He rested from all His work which God had created and made.
Almighty God does not need a break to recover from his work week, so “rest” clearly means more than sleeping in, nice as that is. He also did not see this rest day as an unfortunate concession to our human limitations, wasted time in an otherwise productive week. In fact, he seems to see the seventh day as the highlight of the week since it is the only day he blessed and hallowed. Whatever is encompassed by this word “rest” is far more than just a cessation from work and rather is a presence of some profound good. The sabbath creates space, sacred space, but for what?
If we are blocked from work, from doing, then we only have room for being; if external activity ceases, it leaves only room for internal activity, for heart-work, personally and communally. What makes our lives meaningful is not the six days of outward accomplishments, but this day of rest. The sabbath gives meaning to the whole week because it makes room for us to refocus from the work at hand to revel in God and his masterpieces.
For God, the sabbath is a joy, but for us it is also a necessity, taking our attention away from the week’s distractions and reminding us that God simply wants to take pleasure in our presence. We do not bring our week’s worth of fulfilled tasks to him as an entrance fee, for his delight is in us, not in what we do. The sabbath is not a reward, but comes every week for each of us regardless of how the last six days were spent. In fact, it is those who did most poorly who most need this wonderful respite from God. His chamber doors are always open to us.
When we derive our value from what we do, we fall into the spirit-killing system of legalism. If our work does not proceed from our settled worth in who we already are before God, his beloved children, then we work out of insecurity and all our service and obedience becomes an effort to win his favor and acceptance. A focus on productivity endangers our grounding in grace by either pushing us to self-satisfaction or self-shame. It is not the work but the rest that truly restores our sense of identity and worth, when like Mary we simply sit at the feet of Jesus and soak up his unconditional love. We are all prodigals, and the sabbath is given to us to remind us that we are loved wildly beyond anything we do or fail to do. And in that spirit we step into the week to live out that grace we have received.