Oregon was the first state to recognize it in 1887. It became a federal holiday in 1894. Always the first Monday in September, Labor Day recognizes the contributions and achievements of American workers.
It means something different today than it did one hundred and twenty years ago. Today most consider Labor Day weekend the end of summer, the start of football season, an opportunity to get a few things done around the house, or a long weekend. The aroma of grilled hamburgers and hot dogs is more prevalent on Labor Day than any other Monday of the year. Parks are filled with people. The kids enjoy a day off from school.
The English word labor is from the Latin word laborare. It means manual or physical work. To toil, struggle, have difficulty. We can understand why a woman having a baby is called labor. We can also understand why coal miners and steel workers and railroad builders used to march in parades in early September. The industrialization and modernization of America happened because of their sweat.
Jesus was aware of labor. Physical, emotional, relational, and spiritual labor. He knew life wasn’t easy. It wasn’t easy for the people he related to in the Middle East twenty centuries ago and life remains a challenge for people today. We are tired, stressed out, hurting, over-committed, under-resourced, facing difficulties, lonely, and struggling. Many of us are like this some of the time and some of us are like this much of the time.
Jesus makes an invitation us: Come to me. All of you who labor and carry heavy burdens. If you are tired or burned out, come to me. And I will give you rest. (Matthew 11:28)
The Greek word Jesus uses is ἀναπαύσω which is a little different than our word rest. Rest to us might be laying on a couch in front of a television or dreaming of being in a cabin in mountains or by a lake. Webster even describes rest as “freedom from labor.” Jesus didn’t see rest as inactivity, rather he uses ἀναπαύσω which implies balance, especially in life’s essential areas of imagination, physical wellness, mental wholeness, relational harmony, and spiritual solidarity with God. Jesus is not promising us life is going to be perfect, but he is promising us his presence and his participation in our lives.
This Labor Day weekend, take Jesus up on his offer. Slow down a bit. Realize life isn’t about what we do, but who we are. Go to him. Pray. Give him some of your hurts and some of your burdens. Read a few chapters of one of the Gospels. Play. Serve a stranger. Eat a burger and play a little Frisbee. Journey with Jesus and accept his gifts of balance, harmony, rest, and grace.
Happy Labor Day!