By the sweat of your brow
you will eat your food
until you return to the ground,
since from it you were taken;
for dust you are
and to dust you will return.”
Today is Memorial Day in the United States. It is a federal holiday set aside for remembering those who died while serving in the armed forces of the U.S. On this day, hundreds of events will take place across America to commemorate those who gave their lives for our country. (The photo to the right shows a Memorial Day event at Arlington National Cemetery, with children remembering their father’s sacrifice.) Memorial Day is also, in popular American culture, the first day of summer. Millions of people get away on this holiday, enjoying trips to the beach, the mountains, or the local park for a picnic. When Memorial Day comes around, we smile happily and say, “Summer is here!”
At the end of summer in the U.S. we have another federal holiday, Labor Day. Taking place on the first Monday of September, this holiday honors the American labor movement. More generally, it is supposed to commemorate work, mainly by not working. Once again, millions of Americans will clog beaches, mountain getaways, and parks to celebrate the unofficial end of summer. Yet, increasingly, churches in the United States are setting aside Labor Day Sunday as a time to focus on work in relationship to faith. (See, for example, the excellent resources for Labor Day Sunday at The High Calling.)
For Christians, Memorial Day is a time to remember, not only the sacrifice made by those who gave their lives in service to their country, but also the ways that sin warps our lives and our work. With this remembrance in mind, we long for the day when God will restore all things through Christ.
As I was thinking about Memorial Day, it occurred to me that this holiday actually relates to the issue of work. Thus, I thought I’d offer some brief “Labor Day” reflections for Memorial Day.
Though we don’t usually look at Memorial Day from the perspective of Labor Day, in fact those who lost their lives serving in the armed forces were working. They died while doing their work. (Of course many who died had other vocations in civilian life. But soldiering had become their work for a season. It was the last work they did in this life.)
Why does this matter? First of all, it reminds us that work is not what God intended it to be. Though we were created for work (see Gen 1:27-28; 2:15), sin warped God’s good creation. We continue to work in a fallen world, but our work comes with untold pain and unintended difficulty. This is surely true for many who serve in the armed forces.
Second, when we think of Memorial Day in light of Labor Day, we’re also reminded of the close connection in between the difficulty of work and the inevitability of death. In Genesis 3:16-19, for example, God reveals that, as a result of sin, human work will be painfully difficult and human beings will return to the dust, which is to say, die. Excessively hard work and death are both the sad results of human disobedience to God.
Thus, for Christians, Memorial Day is a time to remember, not only the sacrifice made by those who gave their lives in service to their country, but also the ways that sin warps our lives and our work. With this remembrance in mind, we long for the day when God will restore all things through Christ. We think back to the painful sacrifices of the past and look forward with yearning to the blessings of God’s future.
QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER:
How have you experienced the impact of sin in your work life?
When you envision God’s future, does work make it into your picture? Why or why not?
Gracious God, on this Memorial Day in the United States, we take time to remember those who have given their lives in defense of our freedom. We thank you for their commitment and sacrifice. We pray for families who remember with sad longing their lost loved ones, even as they honor their bravery and devotion.
Lord, we are reminded today that this world is not exactly what you intended it to be. Sin has touched everything, including our work. Work is now filled with hardship. Life is now tainted by death. Our hearts ache before you today.
We also yearn for the future, when you restore all things through Christ. We are eager to experience work as you meant it to be. We are glad for the promise of life without death. And, yes, we look forward to being reunited in your family with those who have died, including those who have given their lives for our country.
All praise, glory, and honor be to you, O God. Amen.