Grace Cathedral

Grace Cathedral

Article | September 3, 2023

Congregation Update: Labor Day and the Necessity of Work and Rest

Blog|The Rev. Canon Dr. Greg Kimura, Ph. D.

“Come unto me all who are heavy laden and travail and I will give you rest.”

Mt 11:28

The long Labor Day weekend signifies many things. It marks the end of summer for some. For others, it is the beginning of the school year. For tennis fans, it means the US Open.

Labor Day as a national holiday traces its roots to 19th-century industrialism and the organized labor movement. It is meant to celebrate the contributions to the country of workers who, often unseen, work tirelessly and frequently in difficult conditions. It acknowledges their dignity, rights, and the importance of their overlooked work to the commonweal. It celebrates, in part, by taking a day off from work.

The theological origins of Labor Day (or May Day/International Workers Day) lie in the idea of the sabbath found in the Genesis accounts of creation. God created in six days, but on the seventh rested. “So God blessed the seventh day and hallowed it, because on it God rested from all the work that he had done in creation.” 

Rest, blessing, and holiness are all of a piece with work in the Christian understanding. We give thanks to God on Sundays, celebrating in church and giving back from the fruits we have been given. And, importantly, we rest. We ritualize rest because rest along with work constitutes us as spiritual beings in our tradition. In a world of 24-hour remote work, a culture of overwork, or, when we find ourselves out of work and desperately looking for meaningful work — this is difficult to reconcile.

Many folks cannot afford not to work. They forego the rest they need, pitting two human necessities against each other. 

As a nation, Labor Day should be a day when we reflect on this as a matter of justice, and create humane working environments that respect work and workers. As a church, we should pray for — but also press our elected officials to enact policies and laws for just, equitable, and humane working conditions, including rest. 

Grace Cathedral, dating back to the 1930s, has played an important role in the area of workers’ rights. It is a tradition to uphold today.

COVID taught us how much we rely on, for example, field workers, many of whom are undocumented. This Labor Day I will remember them, especially in prayer. I will give thanks to God for their essential work in a time of global crisis. I will stand by them and march with them when called. I will also remember them — and the countless others whose work goes into creating a better country and world — when going to the polls.

Happy Labor Day and blessing to you in your various work and in your rest. 

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