Tomorrow, most of us will be able to celebrate the Labor Day Holiday. That means, ironically, that most of us will have a day off from–well–labor. Schools and workplaces across the nation will shut their doors and many will be off for their last “summer vacation.” Friday, an anticipated 3 million passengers took to the friendly skies to enjoy the long weekend. We can either thank Peter McGuire or Matthew Maguire for being the mastermind of this holiday, both secretaries for New York labor unions who made significant efforts to recognize a day for American workers.
The U.S. Department of Labor has published a lot of useful information about this holiday, which it states was started as a “national tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our country” (dol.gov). It was a local observance in the northeast at the height of the Industrial Age, though Oregon was the first state to pass statewide legislation to observe the holiday. That same year, 1887, Colorado, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and New York followed suit. In 1894, Congress made it a legal holiday to be celebrated the first Monday of September.
In the early days, there were picnics, street parades, speeches by prominent men and women, and “Labor Sunday” which was “dedicated to the spiritual and educational aspects of the labor movement” (ibid.). The first parade, in New York City in 1882, had up to 20,000 marchers as well as “Windows and roofs and even the lamp posts and awning frames…occupied by persons anxious to get a good view of the first parade in New York of workingmen of all trades united in one organization” (ibid.).
I find it interesting that we honor work with a day of rest and that the holiday itself has seen a shift in emphasis and expression. That’s neither a complaint or criticism. I intend to enjoy Labor Day with Kathy, taking the vacation day given to me in my working agreement.
But, as we celebrate this national holiday, it’s fitting to recognize the hard work done by so many in this congregation. When you teach Bible classes, lead in worship, decorate bulletin boards, provide transportation to services, stock our pantry, do work on our facilities, engage in soul-winning efforts, practice hospitality, serve officially as church leaders (whether elders, deacons, or someone else tasked with some work), prepare the communion, clean the kitchen, organize the teacher’s work room, go on mission trips, make visits, handle church finances, coordinate worship, serve as ushers and greeters, host youth devotions, or the many, many other things you do, you are doing honored work. Jesus taught that greatness comes through service (Mat. 20:25-28; Jn. 13:12-17). New Testament writers honored those who work among us, Paul urging us not to “be weary in well doing” (Gal. 6:9) and to “always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord” (1 Cor. 15:58, NIV). Often, Scripture speaks of the Godhead working. It instructs us to be “to the work.” Enjoy the holiday tomorrow. Yet, in the general, ongoing sense, “We must work the works of Him who sent Me as long as it is day; night is coming when no one can work” (Jn. 9:4). Labor on, brothers and sister!