Rest and Labor

Happy Labor Day to you! The U.S. holiday reminds me of the Bible’s commandment to rest, particularly on the Sabbath, the heart of Jewish Law. For Christians, Willy Rordorf’s book Sunday continues to be a resource from my seminary days. In it he lays out “the history of the day of rest and worship” for the Early Church. He makes a case for both rest and worship on Sunday based on Jesus’ institution of Christian worship that first Easter Sunday night.

Historically, Rordorf points out, Christians didn’t connect Sunday with the Jewish Sabbath until Emperor Constantine elevated Sunday as the official day of rest in the Roman Empire. Until then they saw the promise of the Sabbath as “no longer associated with a day, but with Jesus himself.” But at the same time, both worship together and personal rest were intertwined on Sunday from the beginning. It was called the Lord’s Day (referring to Jesus Christ) because it always included the Lord’s Supper (Holy Communion).

While the Sabbath and Sunday are different, they are intimately related. I love the practice of the Gentile Christian churches in the third, fourth and fifth centuries. Every Saturday they encouraged one another to recall the first creation and the series of covenants God made with the Jews and with all humanity in the Hebrew Scriptures. Then on every Sunday they were invited to reflect on the second creation in Jesus Christ and new life in the Holy Spirit.

Living can get so ragged and hectic these days that simply stopping our overactivity for a while can bring relief. But we can take the idea of rest much deeper. Actually, seeking to balance work with rest, organically woven into worship, is an important form of stewardship. It is not only stewardship of our bodies but also of our faith – renewing our relationship with God through Christ and with one another as His community.

Your partner in ministry,

Betsy Schwarzentraub

See also: The Gift of “Extra” Time