March 31, 2018
It is we who have believed who enter into that rest, just as God said….
No Mass may be celebrated today until darkness has fallen. Then the Vigil of the Lord’s Resurrection may begin. Throughout most of this day, the Church meditates upon the death that God suffered for us, and upon His descent into the underworld. The Church celebrates the Sacred Liturgy during the early part of today through the Liturgy of the Hours. Consider the New Testament passage that the Church proclaims today in the Office of Readings, from Chapter 4 of the Letter to the Hebrews.
If there’s one word that sums up this passage, it would be “rest”; one phrase, “It is we who have believed who enter into that rest”. What is this rest that we enter through belief?
There are two Old Testament contexts for this passage from Hebrews. The first is the creation account from Genesis, at the end of which we hear that “God rested from all His work on the seventh day”. This passage is mentioned by the author of Hebrews only briefly, though. He moves beyond it to the Exodus.
The second Old Testament context is Psalm 95, in which the Psalmist sings of the Exodus retrospectively. He looks back at the wilderness of the Exodus and contrasts it with the land of milk and honey which Joshua led Israel into so that there they might find rest. The author of Hebrews points out, though, that this rest is only a foreshadowing of the rest of which he speaks.
Consider, then, the liturgical context for this “rest” that Christians have entered into by believing. As today is Holy Saturday, the death of Jesus is plainly the immediate liturgical context. As His Body rests in its tomb, we keep vigil. But this rest of Jesus is also a foreshadowing.
So what type of rest do all these contexts point towards?
We would have good reason to answer, “The rest of the Risen Christ”, but we would have to offer this answer with a reservation. Although in meditating on the death of the God-man we await the victory of His Resurrection, the Risen Lord remains on earth for only forty days. He ascends to Heaven so that from there He and the Father might send the Gift of the Holy Spirit.
The Power of the Holy Spirit impels us to carry out the work of the Church: the work of the new creation. Doing so we draw others into the life of the “good things” of the Church: not milk and honey, but water, blood and the spirit. All of this on earth prepares us for our final rest, which the Father calls us into through the door of death: a life of rest in the bosom of Father, Son and Holy Spirit.