In the ancient world people were fond of telling stories about how the world came into being. About how the sky was formed and the sea was birthed, and how human beings came to wander the earth.
In many ancient creation stories, the gods were in conflict and tension – there was violence and anger at the heart of creation itself. In both the Enuma Elish and the Atrahasis epic – creation myths from the Ancient Near East – human beings were created as savages, made by the gods to do the works of the gods. To carry the load, to bear the weight.
In the midst of this kind of world there were a curious group of Israelites. They had been slaves for hundreds of years; forced to work and labour for the service of the empire of Egypt. Little rest. Their survival was dependent on their ability to produce as much output as possible for the least time and cost.
But these Hebrew slaves escaped. Or we should say – they were liberated. The way that they told the story was that God intervened, heard the cry of the oppressed, and acted to free them from their oppression. And they were going around telling very different kinds of creation stories. In one of the creation stories told by the ancient Hebrews, God created the world in a flow and rhythm of 6 days; and on the 6th day created human beings in the image of God. Not just emperors and pharaohs. But all humans beings created in God’s image.
And then on the 7th day God rested.
This is not because God needed a rest. But because the way these ancient people understood this God, they believed that God embedded rest into the very heart of creation itself. In fact, because human beings were created on the 6th day and God rested on the 7th day, in this story the first day that human creatures truly experience is a day of rest. Life is to be lived from rest, outward.
For a group of people who had been slaves, this way of seeing God, creation and of what it means to be human was truly revolutionary. In their laws they instituted days and years of rest. Rest to create a rhythm to live by. 1 sabbath a week. 1 sabbath year in every 7 year. And then every 49 years – 7 x 7 – a year of Jubilee… the year of the Lord’s favour. A year in which things that people had produced and consumed and built were to be laid down, and many things which had been accumulated would be shared. And property that had been taken would be returned.
A symbol that people were not to be defined only by what they produce or consume.
They never really were very good at keeping this one… it was a challenging ask. But interestingly enough, hundreds of years later the Jewish prophet and Messiah Jesus of Nazareth would quote from the Hebrew prophet Isaiah to “proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour”. He claimed that this text was being fulfilled in what he came to do and say. And so Christians are invited to consider that the symbol of Jesus’ resurrection is the symbol of a liberating kind of life that is grounded in rest. It represents the year of the Lord’s favour and is a reminder that we are not defined by what we produce or consume.
We are invited to live from rest, outward, as we participate in the resurrection life of Christ, and our church community gathers to be reminded of this reality. In the face of a modern world that demands more and more from us, our gathered spaces hopefully contain constant reminders of a different kind of story to live by. One that reminds us that we are not simply an economic unit, or a statistic in a desirable target demographic, or a worker that produces output; we are God’s image… and perhaps our lives can look and feel a little different when they are founded on that kind of story.