The most restorative thing for you to do on Sunday is not to take a nap. Don't get me wrong on this, I'm a huge advocate of naps. Sometimes the most holy thing we can do is to sleep because it is a reminder that the world doesn't stop when we rest. Naps during the early afternoon lull can do more to boost our mental acuity and productivity than any amount of caffeine. Physical rest is important but, just like physical discipline, it is not the most important thing (1 Tim. 4:8).
Sabbath is not about doing nothing, though, and it is certainly not about self-indulgence. Let's do a quick look through Scripture to see what we can learn about Sabbath.
Sabbath in Creation
"So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation" (Genesis 2:3). It makes some sense to start at the beginning on this. If you read the creation narrative in Genesis 1-2, you may notice that the seventh day is the only one that did not have an explicit end. The phrase, "and it was evening and it was morning, the _______ day," just doesn't occur. The argument can be made that we were created to live in an ongoing state of God's rest and presence, including even our work. Let's keep that in mind as we continue to look ahead.
Sabbath in the Old Covenant
“Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy" (Exodus 20:8). As Israel came out of Egypt and headed toward the ultimate promised rest in the land God would lead them to, the Sabbath was included in the Law. While it is clear that farming and vocational labor were to cease on the Sabbath, it's also clear that Temple worship and the assembly of God's people was an important part of the Sabbath. In Leviticus 23:3 it says, “Six days shall work be done, but on the seventh day is a Sabbath of solemn rest, a holy convocation. You shall do no work. It is a Sabbath to the Lord in all your dwelling places."
Jesus and Sabbath
Jesus shook things up, claiming to be the Lord of the Sabbath when He and His disciples were confronted for doing too much work, like healing people (Luke 6). That's right, the religious leaders were angry because Jesus healed people on the Sabbath. Let that soak in a bit. He also claimed to offer the true and ultimate rest when He said, "Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30). Jesus doesn't just offer a day off, He offers to us a restoration of the 7th Day, restoring us in relationship to God as our Father and offering rest for our souls.
Sabbath in the Early Church
When we look ahead to the Early Church, Christians started gathering on Sundays rather than Saturdays to celebrate Jesus' resurrection, which happened on the first day of the week (Luke 24). For many, this was still a work day. The idea of Sabbath was redefined by Jesus. In Hebrews we read, "For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken of another day later on. So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God (Hebrews 4:8-9), and then a few verses later, "Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession" (Hebrews 4:14). The earliest of Christians knew that Jesus had brought true rest for them and they gathered each week to celebrate and to be reminded of His finished work.
Sabbath in the New Creation
Revelation 21 gives us a beautiful portrait of a restoration of the 7th Day for all of eternity, as we get to live in God's presence and experience true rest. It says, "And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God" (Revelation 21:3). Our Sunday gatherings are a foretaste of this eternal future. We gather with God's people to worship Him through Jesus Christ, by the power of the Spirit. As a church family, we are a living, working family that comes together to serve one another out of love, gifted by the Holy Spirit for the building up of Jesus' Church. It's in light of this that the author of Hebrews, who knows how we can find ultimate, restorative rest, wrote, "And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works,not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near" (Hebrews 10:24-25).
The most restorative thing we can do is gather together to worship Jesus.
Sabbath is not synonymous with inactivity. Seeing the church gathering as an inconvenient break in your otherwise self-focused day misses the true idea of Sabbath. You will never experience restorative rest while your eyes are fixed on yourself. We will experience true rest when we get our eyes off ourselves and regain perspective on our lives and this world by focusing on Christ. It breaks my heart when Christians refuse to serve their church on Sundays and hide behind the excuse of Sabbath because they are missing so much.
Sabbath is a gracious gift from God to break our routine. Coming together in loving community, breaking routine, serving one another, being reminded of the gospel - these things lead to restoration and re-creation in Christ's image. Serving the others around us as an overflow of Christ's love for us will be better for your soul than simply coming to consume music and preaching because you will see God use your gifts to encourage and build others up. We have a whole day each week that we can focus on Jesus together. What a great blessing from God!
So, go ahead and take a nap. Physical rest is important. God created us with a a constant reminder that we do not hold the whole world together and that we need to sleep. Just don't limit your view of Sabbath rest to laying on the couch. You'll miss out on weekly opportunities to get your focus outside of yourself and to experience true restoration. You'll miss out on true Sabbath rest.