“Labor Day, the first Monday in September, is a creation of the labor movement and is dedicated to the social and economic achievements of American workers. It constitutes a yearly national tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our country.” ~ US Department of Labor
There is certainly a lot to celebrate in the accomplishments of the American worker; railroads, highways and freeways, automobiles, hospitals, restaurants, bridges, skyscrapers, microchips, computers, jazz, blues, and rock ‘n roll to name a few. Additionally, the labor movement played a great part in moving many American workers out of an almost hopeless indentured servitude into a growing and more prosperous middle class with more time for leisure. The American worker has indeed come a long way and accomplished some great things.
One of the greatest windfalls for workers of this time in history was the “invention” of the “weekend”. You might think it came about because of the Labor movement, but in fact it was created by a factory owner’s desire to make more money. Running the assembly-line (also this factory owner’s invention) and its workers seven days a week was actually COSTING Henry Ford money! As workers were burning out on the line and leaving the company for less stressful work, Mr. Ford realized that by working his people too hard he was “hemorrhaging money” to employee turnover. So, he tried a novel idea. He created the 5-day / 40-hour workweek AND he raised all his employee’s pay from $2.34 to $5.00 per day.
The experiment was an overwhelming success as he stopped losing employees and they became more productive, efficient and loyal. Additionally, they could now afford to buy the product they were making. Ford made more money; the workers made more money . . . and other factories caught on to the idea, retained more of their workers and made more money too.
What Ford had done was not really to invent something new, but to stumble onto a couple of things really very old. Moses first records God’s directive regarding the importance of a worker’s wages in Leviticus 19:13 “The wages of a hired worker shall not remain with you all night until morning.” and Jesus himself says in Luke 10:7 that “the laborer deserves his wages”. A denarius in Jesus’ time was a coin equal to “a day’s wages” . . . a fair and sufficient amount to live on for one day. It appears paying a livable wage is as old an idea as the Bible itself.
The second “old” idea that Ford stumbled onto was the idea of resting (not working) at the end of the week. Again, in Moses time, God instructs Israel to “rest from all her labors” on the seventh day, the last day of the week … THE WEEKEND!
The very interesting thing about this weekend “day of rest” is that it was NOT established so that the people could go out and “do” something “more fun” and different that the other day to day work they did; it was established so they could “rest” from their “labors” of serving others’ (or even their own) needs. Instead they were to “rest” and allow God to serve THEM! And as God “served” them through worship with His Word, they would be able to remember and reflect on how He always served them in all their needs . . . even during the other six days when they toiled in labor. Since the time of the resurrection of Christ, Christians have traditionally worshiped on Sunday (the day of His resurrection) instead of the original Saturday of the Sabbath, but the principle is still the same. End the week with a day of rest in the Lord.
While some people LOVE the work that they do, many see the work they do as toil and drudgery. They either scratch out a living day by day just trying to survive or they toil relentlessly to accumulate more and more “stuff” they think they need. To that end some people NEVER take a day off; they work seven days a week.
While God created Adam to “work the garden” He never intended it to be “toil of drudgery”. Working the garden was a gift to Adam. It was to be a work of joy. But that all changed when Adam sinned. Broken and separated from the joy of God given work by sin, Adam (and all of us since) had to “work and toil by the sweat of his brow.” Rather than joy, work in a sin-broken world often wears us down and even can make us bitter. We need a break. We need a rest.
The Sabbath is the Day of rest that we so desperately need. The beauty of the weekend “Sabbath” or “day of rest in the Lord” is that it not only looks forward and gives us who participate in it “a foretaste of the feast to come”, but it also transports us back to the very beginning of creation before the fall when God walked with man in the garden of Eden. When Christians come together around God’s Word and Sacrament, God is with them; forgiving their sin and serving them the “bread of Life” in His Word, and His sacramental bread and wine with His very body and blood. There is no other place or time on this sin-broken world where we can be closer to God Himself than in this moment among God’s people in His house. Every need is provided for and nothing is lacking (just like it was in the garden and will be again in eternity). On this day we are served not by OUR work or labor but by GOD’S Work (fulfilled in the life, death, and resurrection of Christ).
“Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates.” Exodus 20:8-10
For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.” Matthew 18:20
Rev. Nick Wirtz is pastor of Faith Lutheran Church at 2750 Mogollon Dr. in Overgaard, AZ and can be reached at (323) 717-4390. Pastor Nick resides in Overgaard with his wife Patricia. He has spent over 20 years as a pastor in the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod with most of that time spent in bi-lingual (English-Spanish) ministry. He also serves on the board of the local Salvation Army as an advisor, and as Chaplain for Post 86 American Legion Riders. He’s also known to be seen pickin’ a little guitar around town from time to time.