Labor Day – Colossians 1:24-2:3; Psalm 62; Luke 6:6-11
There are lots of different kinds of labor in our lives, and all of it can be good work and holy work.
There’s the work we do for a living, our jobs, day in a day out, and whatever that work is, it can be just as holy as the work of a priest or a sister, if we do it with humility and competence and kindness, even if it’s repetitive and menial and especially then. When we wash windows or rake leaves or load wood we are sharing in the work of Jesus, who came into the world as a carpenter’s son and who did the work of a carpenter and who washed feet and baked fish and called the fishermen and the laborers to follow him.
In monastic communities manual labor is considered to be a special kind of holy work, because it humbles us and puts us in solidarity with all those other people in the world who do manual labor. And because it’s necessary. The bread needs to be baked. The floors need to be swept.
All work can be prayer, the monks know, if it is done prayerfully, for the glory of God.
There’s also the labor of our inner lives, there’s our inner work, the day to day struggle to face and acknowledge our sins and to discern the will for God us that particular day and to discipline ourselves to what is sometimes the hard work and the grind of simply getting up and praying every morning, of making ourselves do what we don’t feel like doing. Sometimes prayer is joyous and of great comfort but often it isn’t. Often we’re just going through the motions, we feel a dryness, and in a way that’s the holiest work of all, because it’s done without reward, it’s done because it needs to be done and ought to be done, out of respect for God and not because it feels good and gives us joy. It’s certainly the hardest work, because it’s invisible, because it often doesn’t seem to be making any difference at all, even though in the end it makes the biggest difference of all.
Often we’re just going through the motions, we feel a dryness, and in a way that’s the holiest work of all, because it’s done without reward, it’s done because it needs to be done and ought to be done, out of respect for God and not because it feels good and gives us joy.
And then there’s the work of Christ and the Spirit, the healing of the withered hand, the work that only God can do, in his kindness. No matter how hard we work ourselves, in our inner and our outer lives, we are not God and we don’t have the power and we can’t earn or manufacture or control the grace that streams down us but also seems to come and to go. We don’t heal. We are healed. Whatever we do is the work of the spirit, we are conduits, it is “Christ in us.”
For this we “labor and struggle,” as Colossians says, “in accord with the exercise of his power working in us.” This is the work: it is the work of God in us, is the labor and struggle of Jesus continuing to transform all the earth through our bodies and through our lives and through all we do.
And when we know this, when we accept this, there is rest, and only here: “only in God be at rest, my soul,” for “from him comes my hope.” “Trust in him at all times,” in all we do. We labor every day, we do the best we can, even in the small things, we try as hard as we can, and at the same time we don’t, we let go, we surrender, knowing that we are workers in the vineyards, we are hired hands, we are the hands themselves, the hands of God, accomplishing his great transformative work in the world, which is the work of love, which is the work of joy.