Monday is Labor Day. What does that mean?

The National holiday began more than 100 years ago, through the influence of labor unions, as a workingman’s holiday.

It has evolved into a holiday for almost everyone, working or not, with parades, family picnics, punctuated by political addresses.

Does the American worker actually get any appreciation, and does anyone really get any rest?

The idea of a day of rest is not new. The Han Dynasty (206 B.C. to 220 A.D.) required imperial officials to rest on every fifth day within the Chinese 10-day week. The Tang Dynasty (618-907) changed it to every 10th day.

The Soviet Union declared a time of rest every six days, but not all workers rested at the same time — rotating 20 percent each six days.

Even God took time to rest (Genesis 2:2). The Hebrew word, Shabath, which means “to cease from labor, to desist, to repose.” Verse 3 declares that “God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it.”

He would later command that we “remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy” (Exodus 20:8). It was called a “holy convocation” (Leviticus 23:3). He commanded the Jewish people to “observe the Sabbath day” as a time of remembrance of the laborious slavery they had endured in Egypt (Deuteronomy 5:12).

The purpose and practice of a “Sabbath Day” has been debated by faith groups ever since God stopped working on creation, and celebrated the completion of it. Is it a day of rest or a day of worship, or both?

Jewish High Holy Days (Passover, Pentecost, Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur) are considered days of Sabbath. Buddhists call their day Uposatha — a day for “the cleansing of the defiled mind” and seek to accomplish an inner calm. Muslims follow the directive of the Quran — “When the call is proclaimed to prayer on Friday, hasten earnestly to the remembrance of Allah, and leave off business.” Even Wiccans celebrate sabbats, the first of each year coincides with Halloween.

Christians, who are seldom consistent on most theological and doctrinal issues, are divided on the observance of a “Sabbath Day.” Many observe it merely as a day of worship. Yet even that is divided among those who choose Saturday, the last day of the week, as the day of worship; while others consider Sunday, the day of the Lord’s resurrection, as the Sabbath Day.

American history is replete with “days of rest” as either spiritual or physical. For many years “blue laws” were intended to promote the secular value of health, safety, recreation and well-being. They were eventually declared unconstitutional because of the implication of religious value.

In its original form, Sabbath is a day of rest. The principle, it seems, is that God insisted that His crowning creation needed a break.

Whether it is to be a set “day” on the calendar, or a systematic practice of chilling, the evidence of failing to observe a day of rest can be catastrophic.

In fact, those who worked on the Sabbath (God called it “defiling or profaning the day”) were put to death (Exodus 31:15).

Happy Labor Day!

The Rev. Jimmy Towers is pastor of LifeWay Fellowship in Killeen.

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