Anticipating Heaven Each Week

He has set eternity in the hearts of men and women.  Eccl. 3:11

The idea that both the Sabbath and eternity share something of the same essence is an ancient one in Jewish theology where the Sabbath is welcomed each week as an anticipation of heaven.  As one ancient tradition declares: “The world to come is characterized by the kind of holiness possessed by the Sabbath in this world, and the Sabbath possesses a holiness like that of the world to come.”

The Sabbath reminds us that we belong simultaneously to two worlds—this world and the next.  We are to long for the Sabbath in the same way we long for eternity, which is why Judaism tries to foster the vision of life as a weekly pilgrimage towards the seventh day.  As the Jewish theologian Abraham Heschel states,

All our life should be a pilgrimage to the seventh day.  The thought and appreciation of what this day may bring to us should be ever present in our minds as inspiring our vision of eternity. For the Sabbath is the counterpoint to the active, temporal life.

Rabbi Solomon, in his 11th century commentary on the Talmud, speaks similarly of the relationship between our temporal observance of the Sabbath and our anticipation of its resonance with heaven.  He writes,

Unless one learns how to relish the taste of Sabbath while still in this world, as an initiation in our appreciation of eternal life, one will be unable to anticipate with joy the taste of eternity for the world to come. Sad is the lot of anyone who arrives inexperienced and, when led to heaven, cannot perceive there the familiar beauty of the Sabbath.

As the Sabbath is part of God’s inaugural act of creation, so is it a symbol of the final act of creation.  This is why the writer of the book of Hebrews encourages us, in this life, to make every effort to enter the “Sabbath-rest” that still awaits the people of God (Heb. 4:9-10).

In light of the eternity that it foreshadows, let us cultivate the art of anticipating, each week, the day God has deemed as holy.  Let us creatively prepare ourselves to receive the blessing that God has promised us on our day of rest.  And, above all, let us learn to relish, while still in this world, a growing taste for the God-given delights of the Sabbath.  It will help us appreciate all the more the eternal life we will one day recognize as our final Sabbath-rest.