The first creation story in the Bible presents us with a God who creates a universe that bears some semblance to sanctuaries that appear in the unfolding story of Israel, namely the mobile tabernacle and the temple. In fact, some Old Testament scholars have begun to think of creation and cosmos as a form of “sanctuary writ large,” in other words: the whole cosmos is a site of worship. Interestingly, while other ancient creation stories often ended with the construction of a temple in which humans worshiped their Creator, the first creation story of Genesis depicts a Creator who rests on the seventh day. Humans remain invisible. Or do they? May we not assume that creation – and humans within it – also rests on the seventh day, with and in God? We almost catch a glimpse here of God and the cosmos together on this day proclaiming: “Just to be is a blessing, just to live is holy” (Abraham Joshua Heschel). Not surprisingly, then, when in the book of Exodus, Sabbath observance becomes a crucial sign of freedom from slavery, it is not only a day of rest for the Israelites but for animals, vegetation, and soil too. In Genesis, though, it is God who practices rest, as freedom from labor, and freedom to praise. God’s creation, after all, was “very good.”
It seems to me that for creation too, the same movement should apply one day a week: we free ourselves from labor, and open ourselves to rest, and above all to praise. What might it mean today to practice Sabbath like this, and to practice it in communion with all creation?
We could take a cue from Eucharistic Prayer III in the current Missal which proclaims: “all You have created rightly gives you praise.” A mighty theme is sounded here that appears both in the Scriptures and the Christian tradition; the theme is also present in Pope Francis’s Laudato Si’. In his encyclical, Pope Francis envisions a community, a kinship relation, between human beings and “Mother” or “Sister Earth.” That note rings loud and clear in the very opening of the encyclical: “Our common home is like a sister with whom we share our life and a beautiful mother who opens her arms to embrace us” [# 1]. These are familial – although definitely not familiar – categories. Pope Francis here imagines humans as kin, and one kin only, in the family of all created beings. Out of this insight grows the encyclical’s vision of a “universal communion” which runs like a red thread through this long text.
For a scholar (and a practitioner) of liturgy, communion is, above all, a liturgical term: we go to communion, meaning we approach the Eucharist; we pray in communion with the Pope, the local bishop, the living and the dead. I, as a Latin-rite Catholic, am in full communion with Eastern-rite Catholics. And as a communion of churches, the Roman Catholic Church is in some communion, even if not full communion, with sister churches and ecclesial communities. What we need to live into, not least in this time of ecological emergency, is the reality of a larger, universal, planetary communion: by reason of our createdness, we are kin with everything that is created. Maybe keeping Sabbath is one way to begin to live into this vision, and then to enliven our Sunday prayer and worship with this communion too. If indeed all creation worships – why on earth would we not want to join our human praises with that vast primordial choir?
Click on the links below to see other posts in the series on Creation: