It’s hard to believe that the Summer is nearly over! The long Labor Day weekend represents the last official holiday of the season. Time to get in that last beach trip, camping trip, or cookout before Autumn sets in.
The first Labor Day was celebrated on a Tuesday. Tuesday, September 5, 1882 to be exact. It was organized by the Central Labor Union in New York City. By 1894, 23 more states had adopted the holiday, and on June 28, 1894, President Grover Cleveland signed a law making the first Monday in September of each year a national holiday. It’s a day rightly set aside to honor the hard-working men and women of our nation.
As Christians, we are called to labor for Christ. In his First Letter to the newly formed Church in Thessaloniki, Paul recognized the good work done by the fledgling Church, writing,
“We give thanks to God always for you all, constantly mentioning you in our prayers, remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Thessalonians 1: 2-3)
Over the years the phrase “labor of love” has found its way into the English language to mean a task undertaken for the sheer joy of doing it without any expectation of reward.
I’ll admit there are many days when my job feels more like a burdensome grind than a way of living out my love for Christ and my neighbor. Over this long Labor Day weekend, it is going to be awfully tempting to forget about the world of work and just veg out and relax. Having said that, let me encourage you to spend some time this weekend reflecting on the value of work in our daily walk with Jesus.
The early Christians knew the dignity of all human work. Even their early worship became known as “liturgy” which literally meant the “work” of the Church. For them, the real world was not a place to be avoided – it was their workshop. They were there to bring all of its inhabitants to Baptism and inclusion in Christ and then prepare the real world for His real return, through their witness, their worship, and their work.
You see, they grasped the concept that their labor was something Holy. In performing their work in a diligent and loving way, they were not just serving their employers or working to get a paycheck, they were serving Christ.
“Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters,” writes Paul in 1 Corinthians 3:23.
Benedictine theology grasps this concept nicely. Saint Benedict saw that all types of work are equal and all are important. By serving one another, the brothers and sisters in their monastic communities would promote feelings of respect, not only in themselves but throughout the community (RB 35:1-2). Not only are workers respected, the tools used in the monastery are to be treated carefully, as carefully as the sacred vessels on the altar (RB 31:10-11). Benedict teaches that everything is sacred and to be reverenced, from the humblest to the most glorious. The sacred pervades every part of life including our workplaces.
So, this Labor Day, let’s set some time aside to give God thanks for our work. See your job as a way of serving Christ, as a way of loving God and loving your neighbor. See your workplace as a Sacred and Holy place. How can it be otherwise? You are the Temple of God’s Holy Spirit and Christ is with you always.
Happy Labor Day!