by Kristin Fontaine
The gospel for Daily Office for Year 1 of the first Friday in Lent is from the Book of Hebrews 4:11-16. It starts by encouraging its readers to do all they can to enter God’s rest.
Earlier in chapter 4 of Hebrews the writer gives examples of God’s rest and how people have been both denied and allowed ‘rest’.
I find this passage interesting because the writer regularly uses the phrase “enter into rest”. This phrasing moves rest from a passive act to an active one. To enter something is ‘to do’ an action, whereas I tend to think of ‘rest’ as ceasing action, stopping whatever I am doing. ‘Entering into rest’ makes it into an active choice; not just stopping because I am out of energy or exhausted, but because I choose rest as my activity instead of the multitude of chores, work, hobbies, or gatherings on my schedule.
The writer of this passage seems to be addressing the importance of, not only keeping the sabbath and the intentional rest it provides, but of doing it during the right time. The writer hearkens back to both the creation and the story of Joshua and makes the point that God set a day for the sabbath and that it is not negotiable– even for followers of Christ.
While I don’t keep a regular day of rest, I like the idea of making rest an intentional practice. I meditate, and that time where I try to let go of my busy mental state is my ‘day of rest’. I’m not very good at it, but I try to do it anyway. I was recently inspired to go back to intentional resting by a piece of art by street artist Banksy. It says: “If you get tired, learn to rest, not to quit.” This encapsulated the importance of intentional rest, be it daily or weekly. If I do not enter into rest with intention, my body and soul will force the issue and not at a time of my choosing.
Perhaps that is why God set a specific time for rest and was not interested in negotiating a different time with Joshua. God knew that if we were allowed to move our time of rest, we would keep putting it off indefinitely, to our cost.
Hebrews 4 also gives me the idea of rest as a place. Going back to ‘enter into rest’ and verses 3-5 of Hebrews 4:
For we who have believed enter that rest, just as God[a] has said,
“As in my anger I swore,
‘They shall not enter my rest,’”
though his works were finished at the foundation of the world. For in one place it speaks about the seventh day as follows, “And God rested on the seventh day from all his works.” And again in this place it says, “They shall not enter my rest.”
The writer seems to be saying that God created ‘rest’ as a place on the seventh day by showing that people can be denied entry into rest.
If rest is a place that I enter, what does that look like?
The writer of Hebrews goes on to talk about the role of God as our judge. We stand naked before him. He sees us as we are.
But we are not alone:
Since, then, we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast to our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.
If I am uncertain about what the rest of God is, I have an advocate in Christ. He has been where I have been. He has felt the uncertain life of the flesh and blood person. God the Father may see us in our nakedness, but Jesus knows what it is to be naked. Through him we can appeal for entry to rest in God.
All bible citations are from the NRSV at Bible Gateway.
Kristin Fontaine is an itinerant Episcopalian, crafter, hobbyist, and unstoppable organizer of everything. Advent is her favorite season, but she thinks about the meaning of life and her relationship to God year-round. It all spills out in the essays she writes. She and her husband own Dailey Data Group, a statistical consulting company.
Image by Banksy