The Seventh Day and the Sacrifice of Praise
Last Sunday I began writing about the meaning of God’s rest on the seventh day. I concluded with these words, “True rest is not the mere absence of motion or change, but even more involves the attainment of a goal. So, the seventh day tells us that man was not just created for work in this world, however noble, but that just as God himself transcends the world, man has been created to transcend the world by resting in God. The sanctification of the seventh day, then, means the sanctification of man through which he is given to share in the holiness of God.”
We can expand on this thought if we look at the seventh day precisely as the goal of the trajectory of the first six days. Biblical scholars have observed that the six days are set forth as though God were constructing a house. In the first three days, he sets up the sky as the ‘roof’ of the house and the sea and as the two major ‘rooms’. In the next three days, the ‘roof’ and the ‘rooms’ are furnished, the roof with the lights, and the rooms with the living creatures of sea, sky, and land. The principal ‘resident’ in this house, however, is man, created in the image and likeness of God.
Now, in the ancient world, the very idea of a temple was to provide a house for an image of a ‘god’. Seen in this way, the Genesis account of creation rejects all the pagan temples, all the temples of dead idols, because God himself constructed the whole world as a living temple in which he placed his living image.
Except in this temple of creation, the living image does not receive worship, but offers worship. Man is set in this temple not as an idol for the rest of creation to worship, but as a priest, through whom all creation can find a voice in the sacrifice of praise returned to God, the Creator. The seventh day reveals man as a priest, offering the sacrifice of praise.
There is also contained here a reflection of the Holy Trinity. Man is not exactly the image of God, but rather he is created in the image of God. The true image is the eternal Son of God, who returns to the Father in the love of the Holy Spirit. So, when God creates man in his image and man returns to God with the sacrifice of praise in the Holy Spirit, it is as though the intra-trinitarian relations are extended into the created world. In this way seventh day represents the eternal ‘rest’ of the Father in the Son and of the Son in the Father; that ‘rest’ is itself the Holy Spirit. Through the sacrifice of praise, man is given to share in that rest.
Nevertheless, this original creation was broken by sin. Man turned away from his sacred task, reverted to the sixth day, and sought to make himself the idol of the world. The original creation was broken by sin and this fact should warn us against any excessive glorification of raw ‘nature’, which is the error of much of the environmentalist movement, the religion of ‘Gaia’, or of the ‘Amazon’.
In this light we can see that during the history of the Old Testament, every true temple of God and every true sacrifice was in some way trying to restore the broken creation by setting apart a new ‘house of God’, in which there is no idol, but only a priest offering sacrifice. Temple and sacrifice try to restore the broken creation but cannot really do so because God does not dwell in temples built by human hands. (cf 1 Kg 8:27; Acts 7:47-48; 17:24) So the temple, priesthood, and sacrifice of the Old Testament, even more than being a reflection of the original creation, is a figure pointing forward to the recreation in Christ. Therefore, a sabbath rest still remains for the people of God. … let us strive to enter into that rest. (He 4:9, 11)
The Body of Christ, crucified and risen, is the beginning of the new creation, the new temple, not made by human hands (cf. Dn 2:34-35, 44-45; Mk 14:58; Jn 2:19), and also the new sacrifice, offered by the new high priest, Jesus Christ, who offers himself upon the Cross and continues to offer himself through the hands of his ministers in the Holy Eucharist.
The Body of Christ, risen from the dead is the beginning of the new creation, but in the meantime the old creation waits with eager expectation the revelation of the children of God; for creation was made subject to futility not of its own accord but because of the one who subjected it, in hope that creation itself would be set free from slavery to corruption and share in the glorious freedom of the children of God. (Rm 8:19-21)
That true freedom of the children of God is precisely the freedom to offer to God a worthy sacrifice of praise, the purpose of the whole creation. In the end when all things are made new and God is all in all (cf. Rev 21:5; 1 Cor 15:28), in the heavenly Jerusalem, there will be no temple in the city for its temple is the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb. (Rev 21:22)