The Sabbath is the day of rest, when in the beginning God did not merely complete creation by passively ceasing to create but by actively declaring finality. It would not suffice to create man on the sixth day and then proceed immediately into the daily business of the cosmos. God positively declared completion, and with that completion rest.
But creation was by no means complete. Humanity was by no means complete. God, who had once reached His hand into the dust to form man and into the breast of man to form woman, would have to interject Himself into the world even more profoundly to rescue man from his own corruption. Rather than merely picking up the stuff of man in order to create him, God took on the very nature of man in order to recreate him.
So when Jesus cried out on the cross “It is finished” and gave up his spirit, we know that there is still something yet to come. Just as in Genesis 1, God takes a day of rest after His work comes to fruition, and we wait as he lays in the tomb for the recreation that we yearn for.
It is not, however, an idle passing of time awaiting an inevitable conclusion. It is an active time of preparation. We have heard the promises, and we believe. While Christ descends into death, we await with bated breath and focused hearts for the moment of his triumphant conquest over the tomb. We gird up our loins, so that at the moment of his return we may be found ready.
To this, I add the sentiments of the fourth century bishop and poet Synesius:
All-glorious Thou with many a crown!
Thou didst to wretched earth come down,
To dwell with man by death assailed,
Thyself in mortal body veiled;
And Thou dark Tartarus didst tread,
Midst countless nations of the dead,
Then Hades, ancient-born, amazed,
Did shudder as on Thee he gazed;
And the all-devouring savage hound
Backward recoiled with frightened bound.
But lo! to holy souls, oppressed
With direful woes, Thou gavest rest,
That they in chorus led by Thee,
To praise the Father might be free.