Pastor's Corner: Rest and forgive on Labor Day


Last updated 9/2/2022 at 11:30am

When a holiday is approaching, It is often easy for pastors and other religious leaders to bemoan the appropriation and secularization of that given holiday. Most holidays have spiritual or religious origins or bases. Labor Day, however, is not one of those holidays. It was established to celebrate the hard work and societal contributions made by the working class in the United States.

The first Labor Day was celebrated in 1882 and was made a federal holiday by President Grover Cleveland in June of 1894, setting aside the first Monday in September for that purpose. Although it is purely a "secular holiday" (which by definition is actually an oxymoron) it certainly has a religious parallel.

Many Americans treat the day as the latter bookend to Memorial Day, being the last holiday in which it might be appropriate to celebrate via a cookout picnic and parade. It is perfectly wonderful to do so but Jews and Christians may be familiar with another day of rest established by God as described in Leviticus 25. Although it was a year and not a day - every 50th year - it also acknowledged the hard work of the people of the children of Israel. It was to be observed by giving a sabbath rest to the land by not planting or harvesting for one year, by returning property to its original owners and by canceling all debt. It was essentially a big reset for the ancient people of Israel.

Labor Day offers a similar opportunity as a reset. Perhaps many nations use New Year's Day in such a way, but Labor Day works well for this purpose also because of where it lands on the calendar. Labor Day has often been used as a demarcation for the end of summer and the beginning of a new school year. Families with school-aged children set their lives and plan their vacations with this day in mind, making sure that those vacations are completed by Labor Day.

Even though properties aren't returned to original owners and there are no debtors prisons in America some might say that debt is a prison. It is interesting that a recent executive order forgiving some student debt was enacted so close to Labor Day. Although the true design of that timing is probably related to an approaching election season, the obvious parallel to Biblical precedent seems unavoidable. The goals and intentions of student loan debt forgiveness may not have any direct connection to the Biblical year of jubilee but it would be wise to recognize an opportunity to remember two concepts we hold dear from Judeo-Christian faith: rest from labor and more importantly, forgiveness.

This Labor Day weekend, get some rest, but also consider forgiving someone who owes you something, whether it is money or an apology.


The Rev. Joshua Woods

Pastor, Havre Resurrection Church of the Nazarene


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