The words creation and Sabbath evoke the ideas of beginnings and rest. The dictionary defines creation as “the action or process of bringing something into existence.”
For millennia the Sabbath has been regarded as a day (or time) of religious observance and abstinence from work. Usually viewed as a weekly activity, the practice of Sabbaths has included the commemoration of many events—weekly, monthly, yearly, and beyond.
The weekly Sabbath has been associated primarily with Jews, and now with Seventh-day Adventists. But almost all religious groups and human societies incorporate cycles of work and rest, activity and cessation from their regular routines to participate in religious or spiritual exercises.
In the beginning, a divine act of creation spawned new life on Planet Earth—fruitfulness and multiplication and a program for reproduction and continued creation. Such was the blessed reality of our Genesis beginnings (Gen. 1). Even in sin-blighted conditions in which death and disruption have injected themselves into God’s original schedule, life flows on in rhythmic periods: living and dying now function together, couched in a pattern of work and rest, a cycle of rigor and retirement, service and surrender. In an awkward sense, decay and decomposition fuel new birth and growth, creation and re-creation. Death and life somehow seem inseparable entities now, contributing to or detracting from the richness of existence.
At first Sabbath was entirely unrelated to tiredness and decomposition: there is no exhaustion in Genesis 1 and 2. But in Exodus there is a command to rest. The command is based on two important principles: beginnings and new beginnings; life’s birth and Israel’s rebirth.
The first directive honoring the Sabbath was to commemorate the seventh day and keep it holy in honor of the God who created all things in earth’s first week: “For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth. . . . Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy” (Ex. 20:11).
Deuteronomy’s reiteration of that first directive commands to keep the Sabbath day as an acknowledgment of what God had done for His people and what they must do for others. “Remember that you were slaves in Egypt” (Deut. 5:15). Creation and Sabbath are inextricably linked. The creation command was to take care of the earth, to work it and take care of it, to protect it and maintain it (Gen. 2:15), which requires active participation in the preservation of God’s “very good” creation (Gen. 1:31)—a process in which humans and the Sabbath are inextricably linked.
The language of love and caring, excitement and joy, is the language of Creation and Sabbath.
At AdventHealth University our mission motto is “developing skilled professionals who live the healing values of Christ.” The work of healing is the work of redemption and restoration.
Redemption is essential to the biblical concept of Sabbath. It is a term of commerce in which the lost is restored for a price, bought back in a restoration that brings about a new beginning. The art of healing and living whole is intertwined with Deuteronomy’s restorative understanding of the Sabbath—the re-creation of a once perfect creation.
In the Sabbath, on a fallen earth, we acknowledge God again as the one who, in the beginning, commanded light to shine out of darkness (2 Cor. 4:6), be it the light of hope out of despair, or of wholeness after failure, tragedy, disappointment. The Sabbath is a place in which the destitute and broken can feel whole again.
Daryl Tol, president and CEO of AdventHealth’s Central Division, describes the “personal transformation and wholeness characterized by health care as the driving force of the organization.” For him, this is the ethos of health care—transformation of life in all our spheres by making whole again. The Sabbath is about restoration, beginning again; and that is what healing is about.
In a weekly memo to university students and staff, AdventHealth University president Edwin Hernandez wrote: “To create light, we—you and I—need to create a more enlightened world. A world enlightened by education. A world enlightened by courageous and uplifting faith. A world that encourages such professionals as you to live out your values. To commit to caring and advancing compassion in our world . . . to create communities of fairness, solidarity, justice, where caring for each other and our environment are part of our shared passion and collective efforts. The future Advent hope that we hold so dearly needs to inspire and inform what we do each and every day.”
When Jesus walked on this earth His primary activity was that of healing and the restoration of life, especially on the Sabbath. There are seven recorded examples of miracles of healing He conducted on the Sabbath, to the ire of the religious hierarchy. Healing the man with the deformed hand (Mark 3:1-6); a hunchback woman (Luke 13:10-13); a man at a public pool (John 5:1-18); a mentally ill person (Mark 1:21-28); Peter’s mother-in-law (Mark 1:29-31); a man born blind (John 9:1-16); and another man with abnormal swelling (Luke 14:1-6).
Jesus’ acts pointed to His own, ample understanding of the Sabbath, one that involved the true meaning of worship and praise of the Creator. For the incense of praise and worship is more than sitting in pews, making music, and listening to the spoken word. In performing His miracles Jesus demonstrated the true elements of worship: mercy, compassion, and kindness; elements that celebrate creation’s wonders and the Creator’s love.
Through Him we understand the Sabbath’s purpose as a day of re-creation and renewal, most wholly achieved through the uplifting of those who most need the lift; through re-engaging with fellow humanity for praise and worship after a harried week; through reminding ourselves of the “Egypt” from which He is constantly delivering us; and through pausing to savor as much as possible the varied aspects of the wonderful works of creation. In a world in need of healing, Sabbath’s pause and renewal offers a superior way of pointing to the Creator, who is the Savior of re-creation.
The language of love and caring, excitement and joy, is the language of Creation and Sabbath: it flows from the children of God shouting for joy (Job 38:7); it is heard in the psalmist’s celebration of his song for the Sabbath (Ps. 92); and it echoes in the exultation of crowds rejoicing at Jesus’ Sabbath healing exploits (Luke 13:17).
This, then, is the language of true worship. And the language of Psalm 146, acknowledging the scope of God’s goodness, care, and blessing, implies a connection of such language with the Genesis creation: “God made heaven and earth; he created the sea and everything else”; God is also ministering to society’s most vulnerable, those who are poor, imprisoned, and blind (verses 5-10, CEV).1 Indeed, the psalmist lists beneficiaries of God’s goodness as “everyone who falls” (verse 8, CEV), and describes Him as looking after strangers, defending orphans’ and widows’ rights, giving “justice to the poor and food to the hungry,” and routing the wicked (verses 7, 9). This God of care for the weak, this God of life and wholeness, this God of Creation and rest for the weary, is his God. In the end his enthusiasm for his God is unrestrainable: “The Lord God of Zion will rule forever! Shout praises to the Lord!” (verse 10, CEV).
By contrast, the prophet Isaiah (1:10-17) points out the failings of his people in worship—not because their songs weren’t the right melodies, or their sacrifices were out of order according to prescribed ritual. Rather, it was their violence against the widows and orphans (verse 17), their evil against the vulnerable of society that provoked God’s anger. No matter how much they prayed, the Lord wouldn’t listen while His creation was forgotten, neglected, or abused. For Isaiah, Sabbath worship and day-to-day caring went together: the climactic blessings of the Sabbath followed by worshippers’ dedication to serving the needy (see Isa. 58).
On September 14, 2019, the Forest Lake Seventh-day Adventist Church embarked on a day of service. All services were suspended as church members donated thousands of dollars and food and clothing and fanned out through the community, providing services to numerous agencies that serve those in need. It was a demonstration of worship too infrequently practiced by those who profess the name of Christ.
In the end, worship—Sabbath worship or other—that is disconnected from justice, fairness, and healing, and that ignores oppression, is a distortion of true worship, and is abhorrent to God. For Jesus, “the work of relieving the afflicted was in harmony with the Sabbath law.”2 For the Sabbath is a celebration of wholeness extending from earth’s first creation to God’s day of final and total liberation. We honor Him who is Creator, Healer, Redeemer, and Restorer by our celebration of rest.
Placed together, Creation and the Sabbath are a combined acknowledgment of our beginnings, our journey, and our responsibility to the God of our life who is Lord of all the universe. Keeping it expresses our acknowledgment to stand with God on behalf of each created being; to join with Him in lifting the fallen, healing the sick, feeding the poor, protecting the vulnerable and stranger, supporting the mentally and physically disabled, and working justly and mercifully to restore the image and glory of the Creator in all of His wounded creation.
Len M. Archer is vice president for academic administration at AdventHealth University in Orlando, Florida.