This time of year is filled with vacations. The kids are out of school, work schedules seem to be more relaxed, and we all just want to enjoy the warmth as much as possible before the doldrums of winter return. We understand also in taking a vacation that we need some rest from our labors, something to help recharge us and reinvigorate us for our daily tasks. Yet how much do we take advantage of the rest that God calls us to observe every Sunday?
We hear in our Gospel today how Christ receives the Twelve after they have gone off and preached the message of repentance. However, instead of calling them to a different task or sending them to a different place, He tells them: “Come away and rest a while.” In ordering this for His disciples, Our Lord shows us the necessity not only of working but also of resting. We were created not merely to work and to labor for our food, but we were also created to rest in God. We can seen this in one instance during the French Revolution: when the revolutionaries tried to redivide the calendar into 10-day weeks, the people did not welcome working more days and having fewer days of rest.
Though we are meant for rest as well as labor, it is the type of rest which defines us as Christians. God gave us the 3rd commandment which states, “Keep holy the sabbath day. Six days you shall labor, and on the seventh you shall rest.” But how are we to keep holy this day and how are we to rest? Again, the Gospel shows us what this means when St. Mark tells us that Christ took the Twelve away to a deserted place. In this withdrawal from the crowds who were coming and going in great numbers can be seen the identity of the rest God desires for us in the Sunday rest.
Certainly, God desires us to rest from our labors so as to be refreshed and ready for a new week. But we are also to rest from the influence of the great temptations which plague every Christian: the temptations of the sinful world, the weak flesh, and the devil. We are called not only to rest from something, but to rest in and with someone. God wants us to be separated from the noise of our modern society trying to pervert us or corrupt in a thousand little ways; He wants us separate from the discord and strife which is plaguing the world; He wants us separate so as to remember that we are His and He is ours.
God calls us to enter into the Sunday rest so that we may draw nearer to the fountain of living water which flows from Christ through the Church. Hence why the Church calls us to the Sunday Mass as “the foundation and confirmation of all Christian practice.” (CCC 2181) When we gather as a community every Sunday, we are strengthened by God so as to live out our Christian vocation more effectively and more perfectly. We are also made present to the mystery of the work of God which has been effected by Christ for our salvation, primarily through His passion, death, and resurrection on Easter Sunday. We rest in the labors that God has performed.
We also rest as a means of looking forward to that day when our labors will be completed, when we will no longer be called to the tasks at hand, but can begin to enjoy the fruits of our labors. Truly the Christian holds out hope that God will lead him to verdant pastures, but the Christian must be ever mindful that he must walk through the dark valley, the valley of the shadow of death before reaching those pastures. We are laborers in this life, though we receive a vision of this eternal rest in the Sunday rest God imposes upon us. Yet we must not lose sight of the true goal of our labors and our rests in this world: the goal of eternal union with God.
Let us then strive to make our Sundays more a day of rest in the Lord than in the cessation of labor. Let us not be like the legalistic Jews who will not even flip a light switch or open a door on the sabbath; St. Paul reminds us in our second reading that we Christians have been elevated above this legalism towards the greater path of love which desires to do all for the beloved. We are to rest, but not in the mere avoidance of work; we are to rest in the work of God which we encounter in the liturgy. Let us desire to truly sanctify our Sundays through our great care and love of God whom we encounter within the sacred liturgy, still teaching us many things about who He is and who we are. Let us also learn from Christ our Teacher through our own study, making Sunday to be the Dies Domini, the Day of the Lord, by supplementing our encounter at the Sunday liturgy with our own prayer and study of this faith which we have received. Let us find our rest with the Good Shepherd, who desires to refresh our souls with the gift of His body and blood so that, when our time of labor on this earth is complete, we may dwell in the house of the Lord for years to come.