Our Common Life Depends Upon Each Other’s Toil

Listen! The wages of the laborers who mowed [the] fields [of the rich], which [they] kept back by fraud, cry out, and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts.                                                                              -James 5:4, NRSVue

Dear friends,

For at least half of my life, I didn’t know much about Labor Day. I was homeschooled and we didn’t take Labor Day off or talk about it, except for the artificial sales advertised by competing furniture stores. Kristen had to teach me as an adult the mnemonic that Memorial Day is in May and Labor Day is the other one, because I kept getting them mixed up.

More recently, I’ve learned Labor Day is a celebration of the people who do the work that keeps this country going, and that it got its start because of labor unions. All I heard about labor unions growing up were complaints that the Pennsylvania teacher’s union wanted too much money. (Having been a teacher myself, I now find that difficult to believe.)

I’ve since learned a more about Labor Day and the unions behind it; how they helped bring us the 8-hour workday (at least those of us who work for other people for an hourly rate), mostly abolished child labor so kids can go to school and play instead, and empowered (and still empower) millions of people to negotiate for better wages and working conditions, and how Labor Day is (among other things) a celebration of those accomplishments.

We have holidays for all sorts of things, but I think Labor Day may be the only American holiday that draws attention to and honors “each other’s toil,” to borrow from a prayer in the Book of Common Prayer, which I will close with:

“O God, your unfailing providence sustains the world we live in and the life we live: Watch over those, both night and day, who work while others sleep, and grant that we may never forget that our common life depends upon each other’s toil; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”


Rev. David Schell