I find myself thinking and writing about Sabbath and rest quite a lot. I think it’s because the need for real rest that reflects on God’s goodness and my own need for Him is really lacking in my life as well as in the life of the western church these days. Some of us can be quite good at leisure, which is something given the push in our society to provide and achieve, but really resting in what god has done is something else entirely that I think we miss most often.
I started using a Christian Lectionary (planned out and assigned readings to be used for either teaching or personal study that assigns passages to every day of the year) to determine what I read each day instead of feeling bound to work through a specific book or just aimlessly wandering. Today I read two Psalms and got to the Old Testament reading and was struck by the book of Leviticus. The passage in question was a description and warning on how sacrifice should take place since Aaron’s sons had just been killed for being flippant and disrespectful when offering to God. It had many details on exactly how one should dress, how the animals should be chosen for sacrifice, and what steps and actions the priest should take. Then it says something I found very striking.
“This is to be a lasting ordinance for you: On the tenth day of the seventh month you must deny yourselves and not do any work—whether native-born or a foreigner residing among you—because on this day atonement will be made for you, to cleanse you. Then, before the Lord, you will be clean from all your sins.”
All of this preparation and work is a heavy task for the priest to maintain, but the people have one job and focus. Sit down and rest. As a people and as an individual you can do nothing to atone for the broken relationship that exists between you and God. All you can do is wait and fast. And you can’t do anything that day, not even incidentally, so you can’t think that anything you do is helping or contributing to the work happening in atonement. It is a somber and mindful day and the work is entirely out of your hands. I can only imagine how stressful that would have been. Having your entire spiritual life resting in the hands of a single person who has to do it just right in order to satisfy the requirement of atonement and actually be cleansed of the guilt and weight of sin.
But that’s exactly what I have to do as a believer in Jesus Christ. I depend on and lean in to what Christ has done, not adding anything of my own to the work that cleanses me and makes me whole in God’s eyes. Letting go of what I have to offer and leaning back, fasting from the things that I so depend on and trusting that Jesus is good enough and at His effort to “get it right” and fulfill God’s strict requirements when I know I cannot is a challenge everyday. As I rest today on the good work of Jesus, I am satisfied in the fact that He is the best high priest and one I can depend on to have made atonement for me. And that gives me peace because who could know and do what God wanted better than the One who knows Him most intimately, His precious Son who was willing to not only be the one who offers the sacrifice, but the sacrifice Himself. Amen.