A long-weekend of play before the start of school, one last trip to the Minnesota State Fair, bargain shopping at our favorite retail stores, end-of-summer picnics with friends and family, and watching parades with marching bands blaring and kids freely running and shouting: these are but a few of the ways that we celebrate Labor Day weekend. Like so often in 2020, we may be choosing new celebrations or modifying these old traditions. Pining for state fair food—I personally miss the bucket of French Fries and vanilla milk shakes from the Dairy Barn—we may be refining our own culinary capabilities. Fewer people may come to our backyard picnics and the kids might be playing with masks on. We may hunt for bargains online rather than meandering lazily through stores. No matter the differences, what remains is an extra day to rest and relax, to connect with that which sustains and nourishes us.
Labor Day began in the late 1800s in relation to workers’ rights. It was signed into law as a federal holiday by President Grover Cleveland in response to a railroad strike protesting unfair wages and working conditions. At that time, twelve-hour work days, unhealthy and dangerous work environments, and child labor were all too common. Most of the demands of the striking unions were not met at the time, and most of the labor laws enacted in the early twentieth century excluded or failed to protect women and people of color. Even today, a significant portion of working Americans, many of whom are designated “essential workers,” report to their jobs on Labor Day. As public schools start virtually on Monday in Minneapolis and other places across the country, the children of these workers will have fewer supports at-home to guide them through a day of online classes and assignments that appear impossible even for those with significant privilege.
If we are among those who can rest from our normal labor on Monday, then let us do so remembering that not all have the same rights. Let us get up on Tuesday and find ways to advocate for more equitable policies, practices, and structures in our places of work, houses of faith, and communities. If we do so, then we might be truer to the intent of Labor Day. If we do so, we also might be truer to the spiritual correlate of Labor Day: the Sabbath.
“Keeping the Sabbath” is one the ten commandments. Take one day out of seven to rest. To cease labor. To connect with God, each other, yourself. To bask in the beauty of nature. To remember that your worth is not tied to your work, contrary to what you’ve been conditioned to believe. You are enough and you are loved just as you are. No amount of work or so-called success can alter that.
The Sabbath command was given to a people freed from slavery and ushered into a new life in a new land. They had to learn to be free, which meant learning to free others whom they would be tempted to enslave in one way or another. “Honoring the Sabbath,” “loosing the bonds of injustice,” and caring for the hungry, homeless, and hurting belong together as a way of life that contributes to wholeness and peace for all.
So, this Labor Day, let us rest if we can. Let us love and be loved. Let us pray and play together even if socially distanced. So that we might be renewed to join God’s work of healing, justice, and reconciliation for all.
*Theresa F. Latini, Ph.D. is the Executive Director of Mount Olivet Conference & Retreat Center and an ordained minister in the Presbyterian Church (USA)