Labor Day is every day

August 31, 2011

Almighty God, you have so linked our lives one with another that all we do affects, for good or ill, all other lives: So guide us in the work we do, that we may do it not for self alone, but for the common good; and, as we seek a proper return for our own labor, make us mindful of the rightful aspirations of other workers, and arouse our concern for those who are out of work; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

The collect prayer for Labor Day isn't usually heard in church by many Episcopalians. Unless your parish has a Monday service, or your rector offers this prayer on the Sunday of Labor Day weekend -- traditionally a low-attendance Sunday -- I suspect this is one of those prayers you have to seek out. It's on page 261 of the Book of Common Prayer.

Why is it especially significant this year? There's a lot going on in our country and the world directed at workers, those whom Labor Day was established to honor. Labor unions are being attacked. Teachers and other public employees are made out to be the enemy. Sending jobs overseas in search of the cheapest labor continues.

The heresy -- or, dare I say, sin -- of radical individualism fuels such sentiments. Our prayer reminds us that we're all linked. Everything we do has consequences for others. If we continue buying the cheapest jeans we can find, corporations will continue searching for cheaper places to make those jeans.

My cell phone battery lasts longer because a worker in the Congo has walked dozens of miles to dig coltan from a riverbank for pennies a day. Turns out that mineral helps extend battery life.

In some Asian sweatshops, young girls never see the sun. They begin making clothes before dawn and go home after dark. Their wages may be higher than those of many workers in their country, but working conditions are usually oppressive. I wouldn't want my daughter working there.

Our collect prayer reminds us that whatever work we do is not solely for our own benefit -- our take-home pay -- but for the common good. It also reminds us of those who no longer receive a living wage; who must work second or third jobs to pay for essentials. Whether we read the Genesis story of creation as literal or allegory, we can agree that God sanctified labor. God worked to create this world and all that is in it. And then, God rested.

When you and I rest on this upcoming Labor Day weekend -- if we're fortunate enough to even have the day off, because someone fought for that privilege -- let us thank God for the labor of those who make our lives possible. And let us pray for those who have lost jobs, those who are looking for work, and those millions more who are underemployed.

As for me, I will be praying especially that we do not lose hold of the idea of "the common good" in this country and that we extend it to the global village of workers as well.

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