Today the nation takes a day off. We know that we need to rest from our labors, so today we replace the office or workshop with picnics and backyard softball.
Nonetheless, resting can make us feel uncomfortable. To be sure, this discomfort stems from good motives. We try to work for the benefit of others, whether to bring aid to those in need or to feed our families. So we can feel that by taking time off, we are allowing our laziness to cause harm.
This tension is perhaps why holidays like Labor Day exist: we need someone else to reassure us that resting is okay. Indeed, God Himself has seen fit to remind us of this. In His boundless generosity, He gives us a Labor Day every week:
Six days you shall labor, and do all your work; but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God; in it you shall not do any work. … You shall remember that you were a servant in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God brought you out thence with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm; therefore the Lord your God commanded you to keep the sabbath day. (Dt 5:13–15)
We often justify our resting by arguing that it will help us to do better work. This is true, and not a bad thing, but this is not why the Lord gives us rest. Neither does His rest celebrate human labor, like today’s holiday. No, the Lord commands that we do no work on the sabbath in order that we instead remember His great work. Resting gives us time to recall and celebrate God’s marvelous deeds that have set us free.
This doesn’t mean that we should pass our times of rest entirely in church or reading the Bible. The sabbath shouldn’t just force us to pray a little more. Rather, Sundays offer us a tiny foretaste of the glorious rest of heaven. When we speak of the deceased “resting in peace,” we mean what we say: we pray that God has graciously granted our loved ones the greatest rest, the eternal sabbath, praising Him for all eternity. Singing God’s praises is a task for the whole person, and so our rest needs to engage us totally, body and soul. Whether in church or on the baseball diamond, when we rest well, we praise God.
The Lord’s gift of the sabbath reminds us that our work alone cannot fulfill us. In this life we must indeed work, and we can truly praise God through our work. But God in His mercy allows us to participate already in the life of heaven, praising God even as we rest!