Labour Day is kind of like Israel’s Sabbath Year. For 6 years, Israel would work the land, then in the 7th year they would rest from their labours and not work the land so that the land itself would rest as well (Leviticus 25:3-7). Of course, Labour Day doesn’t happen every 7 years but every single year, but it’s similar. Labour Day occurs on the first Monday of September every year where virtually everyone rests from their labours.
In this way, Labour Day is treated as the secular world’s Sabbath Year. Everyone treats it as a sacred, holy (set apart) day just as we treat the Sabbath day as sacred and holy (set apart). Mostly everyone rests from their labours, having BBQs and cookouts, going on a mini-vacation, and engaging in other traditions. Most of all, it offers a chance of mental recuperation. However, this “sabbath” lasts only 24 hours, not nearly enough time for such regeneration.
Thanks be to God that you and I, as Christians, have the weekly Sabbath not only to rest from our physical labours, but especially to find spiritual rest in the Lord—to receive that spiritual, mental, and emotional recuperation we need. You and I don’t have to wait once a year for such a time. Jesus said, “Come to Me, all who labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30).
Jesus says this in the immediate context of proving His Lordship over the Sabbath. “At that time, Jesus went through the grain fields on the Sabbath. His disciples were hungry, and they began to pluck heads of grain and to eat” (Matthew 12:1). Not only was Israel to cease all work on the land for a whole year during their 7th year of work, but also on the weekly Sabbath (the 7th day), they were to cease work on the land, including the harvesting of grain (Exodus 31:13-15; 34:21; Deuteronomy 5:14). Knowing this, the Pharisees were not happy with what Jesus and His disciples were doing (Matthew 12:2).
Yet Jesus lists scriptural evidence against them (Matthew 12:3-4). Entering the temple at Nob and talking with Ahimelech on behalf of King Saul, David asks for bread for him and his men to eat after their long journey. The priest, Ahimelech, makes known to David that he doesn’t have any normal bread but only holy bread, the Bread of the Presence, which was reserved for priests to eat according to the Law. Yet the priest saw fit to give David and his men the holy bread to eat because it was more important for them to eat and be filled (1 Samuel 21:1-6).
Jesus not only strongly implies that such an occasion is exempt from the Sabbath law, but He also says more importantly, “I tell you, something greater than the temple is here. And if you had known what this means, ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice’ [Hosea 6:6], you would not have condemned the guiltless. For the Son of Man is lord of the Sabbath” (Matthew 12:6-8).
“Something greater than the temple is here.” This greater thing is Jesus Himself. Jesus is the final temple, which is also what He means when He says, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up” (John 2:9). St. John goes on to explain, “But He was speaking about the temple of His body. When, therefore, He was raised from the dead, His disciples remembered that He had said this, and they believed the Scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken” (John 2:21-22).
Because Jesus’ body is the temple, He is Lord of the Sabbath. He tells us what is necessary for the Sabbath. Most of all, quoting Yahweh from Scripture, He desires mercy, not sacrifice. And what is the reason for which we attend the Sabbath? Not for the sake of doing it. Not because your parents do it. Not because of cultural tradition. But for mercy—the forgiveness of sins we receive through God’s means of grace in Word and Sacrament.
On the Sabbath, you find rest for your souls in Christ. In the Word, God’s words of forgiveness are spoken to you, doing what it says. “I forgive you all your sins in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,” and it is done, right then and there. You are baptised with water whereupon God’s Word once again does what it says—He forgives you all your sins, He sanctifies you, you receive the Holy Spirit, and God the Father adopts you as His dear child. And you receive Jesus’ true body and blood into your mouth where you literally taste the sweet forgiveness of sins.
Every Sabbath day is our labour day. You and I not only get to rest from our physical labours, but we especially have the gracious gift of resting our souls in the Lord.
“How do I know I’m forgiven?” Hear the words of Absolution the pastor speaks to you in the stead and by the command of your Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. Taste the sweet wine and bread of Jesus’ body and blood, literally taking His body into yours that delivers you His mercy. You have that assurance right in your ears and in your very stomach!
“How do I know I have salvation?” Look at the baptismal font. Dip your fingers in its waters and make the sign of the cross, remembering you have literally been reborn through these waters into the eternal family of God. Through these waters and the efficacious power of God’s Word, God the Father has made you His beloved son, His beloved daughter.
These things have physically and spiritually happened to you in a literal, real way. You have seen, heard, felt, and tasted forgiveness and salvation. Through all your senses, you receive these things every Sabbath day. Therefore, let us pray for the joy of worship:
Heavenly Father, let me share the joy of the psalmist who said, “I was glad when they said to me, Let us go to the house of the Lord” [Psalm 122:1]. May every opportunity offered to worship You in Your house find me eager to join in hearing Your Word, in singing Your praise, in lifting up my heart to You in prayer.
May Your Holy Spirit so bless the hour of worship in Your house that I may be refreshed after the toils and burdens, the sins and failures of the weekday world. I need so much my Saviour’s invitation, “Come to Me, all who labour and are heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.”
Teach me to come into Your presence with a contrite heart, and let me depart with the knowledge that my sins are forgiven. Fill my spirit with the peace which the world cannot give.
From Thy house when I return,
May my heart within me burn,
And at evening let me say,
“I have walked with God today.”
Amen.My Prayer Book, p. 86