Archive for April 26th, 2008

God’s Great Sabbath

April 26, 2008

One of the most immediately puzzling passages in Genesis is in the creation story where we are told that God “rested on the Seventh (Sabbath) day.” It obviously cannot be taken in the literal sense that God needed rest. There is a deeper mystery. In the interpretation of the Christian Fathers and in the life of the Orthodox faith, God’s Sabbath is fulfilled in Christ, who rests on the Sabbath (Saturday) in the tomb, after His death on the Cross from which He said, “It is finished.” But the Sabbath of God, His rest, is not a non-fruitful cessation of activity. As Adam slept and God removed from his side his rib and fashioned Eve, so too, Christ “sleeps” in death on the Cross, and from His pierced side flows blood and water, the Eucharist and Baptism, from which God forms Christ’s bride, the Church.

Additionally, in His journey into death, Christ “tramples down death by death,” and gains victory for all through His resurrection. The Eastern Orthodox Church has a major service on the morning of Holy Saturday in which Christ’s descent into Hades is remembered and His victory of death and hell begins to be celebrated. Some of the texts from that service are marvelously rich in their content:

Today hell cries out groaning:

I should not have accepted the Man born of Mary.

He shattered the gates of brass.

As God, He raised the souls that I had held captive.

Glory to Thy cross and resurrection, O Lord.

 

Today, hell cries out groaning:

My dominion has been shattered.

I received a dead man as one of the dead,

but against Him I could not prevail.

From eternity I had ruled the dead,

but behold, He raises all.

Because of Him do I perish.

Glory to Thy cross and resurrection, O Lord.

 

The great Moses mystically foreshadowed this day, when he said:

This is the blessed Sabbath.

This is the day of rest, on which the only-begotten Son of God rested from all His works.

He kept the Sabbath in the flesh,

through the dispensation of death.

but on this day, He returned again

through the resurrection.

He has granted us eternal life,

for He alone is good, the lover of man.

 

The verses are from the Stichera for the Vesperal Liturgy of Holy Saturday.