And on the seventh day God finished His work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all His work that He had done. Gen. 2:2-3
When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, “It is finished,” and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit. John 19:30
What is the connection between the You that fell asleep last night and the You that woke up this morning? You’re the same person, of course, but in a sense, you’re a different person when you’re well rested than you are when you are exhausted. Your muscles rebuild, your emotions settle, your thoughts have a chance to process, even your skin and your eyes seem rejuvenated. There is a reason they call it beauty sleep. You are closer to being the person you’re supposed to be when you are rested.
Of course it never fully works. There is too much connection between yesterday and today for us to wake up completely new. The day is new, but no matter how rested we are, it is our same old self facing it. The hurts and scars, and problems unsolved, the consequences of mistakes—they linger with us from night until morning, or we drag them with us from one day into another. In this life, a good night’s rest helps, but it is not a cure-all. We wake up better off, but still with the same sinfulness, problems, fears, and mortality.
If every bedtime it is a rehearsal for dying, then every morning is a rehearsal of the resurrection. What we need is something that utterly cuts us off from the old world and our old selves, yet somehow allows us to remain who we are. And not just who we are, but who we ought to be, perfectly ourselves, perfectly rested, beautiful, strong, righteous, cut off from sin and suffering, but awake and alive to love and the glory of God all around us, never to grow tired and weak again. That is the night’s sleep we all need.
Today is Holy Saturday. Normally at the Easter Vigil we read the story of the seven days of creation. It is a favorite reading because we do it in the dark, by candlelight, and ring hand bells in increasingly complex harmonies between each day of creation. But Genesis is only the first of many readings. We know that the Sabbath rest was destroyed by sin and rebellion, and that nothing we could do would set things right. Jesus, God and Man, did all the work or restoring us to our Creator. He took it all upon Himself. And when it was finished, He rested. He rested in the tomb on Holy Saturday, and arose on Sunday to inaugurate the New Creation.
Jesus and St. Paul both refer to death as sleeping. Many times I’ve stood out at Concordia Cemetery or someplace like it for a committal service, and blessed a grave site with these words: “O Lord Jesus Christ, by Your three-day rest in the tomb You hallowed the graves of all who believe in You, promising resurrection to our mortal bodies. Bless this grave that the body of our brother (or sister) may sleep here in peace until you awaken him to glory, when he shall see You face to face and know the splendor of the eternal God…”
Holy Saturday has its part. Good Friday is when everything was accomplished. The concluding prayer at the cemetery begins, “Almighty God, by the death of Your Son Jesus Christ You destroyed death…” Easter Sunday is when the New Creation began. The same prayer says, “and by His bodily resurrection You brought life and immortality to light…” But there is waiting involved. Holy Saturday, the Sabbath Day. In between the part about Good Friday and Easter Sunday, the prayer says, “…by His rest in the tomb You sanctified the graves of Your saints…” and goes on to say, “…so that all who die in Him abide in peace and hope.”
Whether we speak of a bed, a grave, or Holy Saturday, rest in peace. Sleep long and well. Let the troubles of this whole life melt away like the troubles of a child’s day. God will watch over you, and wake you up when it is time. In that day you will be perfectly you, but all that is wrong, including your old sinful nature, will have melted away like a bad dream. Christ is your holy Sabbath. He makes you new. A soft pillow is a picture of it night after night. A hard headstone is a witness to it year after year. We will arise in glory to a new day. Today is a day of rest.
Rev. Peter Speckhard, Senior Pastor at St. Paul's Ev. Lutheran Church, Munster, Indiana