Labor Day – 2014 – Contemplating the Blessed Sacrament of Labor – Claw hammer, Stethoscope, Washer/Dryer, and Textbook
Today is Labor Day.
I was having lunch with some friends last week. The subject of Labor Day came up and one of them reminisced about how the parish he grew up in had a “blessing of the tools” on the Sunday before Labor Day. All of the members brought a tool that represented their labor. In the context of the Holy Eucharist, the tools were blessed.
What a great sacramental action. The priorities are rightly ordered. It is not our job to figure out a way to fit Christ into our workplace/career. It is just the opposite. We are to place our labor into the context of Christ Jesus. In Him we live and move and go about our daily labor.
Oh yes. Lets let go of the wrong-headed categorization and comparisons of labor in terms of worth. And, it is folly to attempt to measure their worth over against one another or in convenient terms of salary, time/product ratios, etc. The arena of labor and the kind of labor knows no boundaries. It includes school, workshop, corporate desk, kitchen, hospital/clinic, orphanage, homeless shelter, etc. Your labor, no matter the kind, if in harmony with the commandments of God is holy unto the Lord.
And note that it is in the context of the Holy Eucharist. Our labor is a sacrifice of loving obedience to Christ as we abide/live in Christ.
So often we set our daily tasks over against our “time with the Lord” as if they are in competition for our devotion at a given moment. Jesus does not command an either/or regarding our relationship with Him and our daily work. The key is not to figure out a way to “balance the two” or “fit everything in.” Rather the key is to place one inside the other so they constitute a mysterious third option of the not dualistic “both/and.”
This is the Eucharistic option. This is the life-giving option. This is the enlivening option. This is The Way.
John 6.27-40 (RSV)
25 When they found him on the other side of the sea, they said to him, “Rabbi, when did you come here?” 26 Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you seek me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. 27 Do not labor for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to eternal life, which the Son of man will give to you; for on him has God the Father set his seal.” 28 Then they said to him, “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?” 29 Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” 30 So they said to him, “Then what sign do you do, that we may see, and believe you? What work do you perform? 31 Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.'” 32 Jesus then said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven; my Father gives you the true bread from heaven. 33 For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven, and gives life to the world.” 34 They said to him, “Lord, give us this bread always.” 35 Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; he who comes to me shall not hunger, and he who believes in me shall never thirst. 36 But I said to you that you have seen me and yet do not believe. 37 All that the Father gives me will come to me; and him who comes to me I will not cast out. 38 For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will, but the will of him who sent me; 39 and this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up at the last day. 40 For this is the will of my Father, that every one who sees the Son and believes in him should have eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day.”
Thank you, Lord, for the Mystery of Holy Labor – Liturgy – the work of our hands, minds, hearts, on behalf of all and for the benefit of all – in and through and of Christ Jesus.
There are times when the Lord reminds us of how we got to where we are in our relationship with Him. How we arrived at the degree of maturity we now enjoy. In those moments the Holy Spirit reminds us of where we learned certain things that are for us now, just the way we now naturally see things and live life. He reminds us that there was a time when what is now so natural was awkwardly and painfully new.
Let me give you a real life example from my journey of salvation.
When I think about prayer, I do not think of it as something “I am doing,” but something the Holy Spirit is accomplishing — being and then doing — in me. It is, in other words, Christ Jesus who is praying in me by the agency of the Holy Spirit. I do pray and my prayer is the prayer of Christ Jesus. I do not mean I imitate or mimic Him. No, it is He Who prays in me and that is, mysteriously, my substantial prayer.
It is hard for me to conceive of prayer in any other way. Now, there was a time when that was not the case. I saw prayer as something “I did” albeit by the power of the Holy Spirit. But, it was still somehow separate even though it was by grace.
So, the question is, “When did that conceptual shift take place?” I read a passage yesterday that served as the Holy Spirit’s reminder that that shift occurred when I was in seminary. It occurred when I read a book entitled, The Go-Between God, by John Taylor published in 1972. I still have my copy from the mid-70’s somewhere among all the boxes of books in my garage!
The point is that I now pray a prayer every morning as part of my morning prayers that articulates this very point. But, if I am honest, I cannot say that I learned this concept when I found that prayer although it felt that way. No, the real beginning of the realization, the planting of the seed that has been bearing fruit for the last 15 years or so, was planted back in the mid-70’s.
Here are both the passage from The Go-Between God that was the original seed and the fruit of that seed in my life, the “Morning Prayer of Philaret of Moscow” which Christ Jesus prays in me every morning….
The prayer of the first Christians was simply a reflection of the living Christ in their midst. It was prayer ‘in his name’; and by this, we mean not that a formula was added at the end of every petition, but that in all their prayer they joined themselves to the prayer of Christ himself, and knew that it was his spirit which prayed in them. The best worship they could offer was simply his self-oblation in them. Praying in that Spirit, the Christian’s prayer is immersed in the ocean of the Son’s communion with the Father: ‘Praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God.’ And again, ‘Keep your watch with continuous prayer and supplication, praying the whole time in the Spirit. With constant wakefulness and perseverance you will find opportunity to pray for all the Christian brethren.’ ‘We do not even know how we ought to pray, but through our inarticulate groans the Spirit himself is pleading for us, and God who searches our inmost being knows what the Spirit means, because he pleads for God’s own people in God’s own way.’
To live in prayer, therefore, is to live in the Spirit, and to live in the Spirit is to live in Christ. I am not saying that prayer is a means or a method which we have to use in order to have more of Christ in us or in order to be more fully possessed by the Spirit. I am saying something simpler and more fundamental: to live in Christ is to live in prayer. Prayer is not something you do; it is a style of living. It is living under the witness which the Spirit bears with our spirit that we are children of God. Such a witness lays upon us the aweful freedom of adult sonship. Prayer is our response to both the privilege and the responsibility whereby we cry Abba, Father! To engage in the mission of God, therefore, is to live this life of prayer; praying without ceasing, as St Paul puts it, that is to say, sustaining a style of life that is focused upon God. This is indeed to engage in the mission of the Holy Spirit by being rather than by doing. To realise that the heart of mission is communion with God in the midst of the world’s life will save us from the demented activism of these days. The Go-Between God, by John Taylor
O Lord, grant me to greet the coming day in peace. Help me in all things to rely upon Your holy will. In every hour of the day reveal Your will to me. Bless my dealings with all who surround me. Teach me to treat all that comes to me throughout the day with peace of soul, and with the firm conviction that Your will governs all. In all my deeds and words guide my thoughts and feelings. In unforseen events let me not forget that all are sent by You. Teach me to act firmly and wisely, without embittering or embarrassing others. Give me strength to bear the fatigue of this coming day with all that it will bring. Direct my will, teach me to pray, pray You Yourself in me. Amen.
The Incarnation, Ascension, and Pentecost are the feasts that reveal the nature of God’s absolute presence NOT His relative absence. The following excerpt from one of John Henry Newman’s sermons elucidates this mystery. By the way, for those who have the time and inclination, the whole sermon is well worth reading.
“If I go, I will send the Advocate to you”
Christ really is with us now, whatever be the mode of it. This he says expressly Himself; “Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the world” (Mt 28,20)… You may be led to explain his declaration thus; “He has come again, but in his Spirit; that is, his Spirit has come instead of him; and when it is said that he is with us, this only means that his Spirit is with us.” No one, doubtless, can deny… that the Holy Ghost is come; but why has he come? to supply Christ’s absence, or to accomplish his presence? Surely to make him present. Let us not for a moment suppose that God the Holy Ghost comes in such sense that God the Son remains away. No; he has not so come that Christ does not come, but rather he comes that Christ may come in his coming. Through the Holy Ghost we have communion with Father and Son. “In Christ we are built together,” says Saint Paul, “for an habitation of God through the Spirit” and: “Strengthened with might by his Spirit in the inner man, that Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith” (Ep 2,22; 3,16f). The Holy Spirit causes, faith welcomes, the indwelling of Christ in the heart. Thus the Spirit does not take the place of Christ in the soul, but secures that place to Christ…
The Holy Spirit, then, vouchsafes to come to us, that by his coming Christ may come to us, not carnally or visibly, but may enter into us. And thus he is both present and absent; absent in that he has left the earth, present in that he has not left the faithful soul; or, as he says himself, “The world sees me no more, but you see me.” (Jn 14, 19).
Blessed John Henry Newman (1801-1890), “The Spiritual Presence of Christ in the Church”
Orthodoxy is the Church of Christ on earth. The Church of Christ is not an institution; it is a new life with Christ and in Christ, guided by the Holy Spirit. Christ, the Son of God, came to earth, was made man, uniting His divine life with that of humanity. This divine-human life He gave to His brethren, who believe on His name. Although He died and rose again and ascended into heaven, He was not separated from His humanity, but remains in it. The light of the resurrection of Christ lights the Church, and the joy of resurrection, of the triumph over death, fills it. The risen Lord lives with us, and our life in the Church is a mysterious life in Christ. ‘Christians’ bear that name precisely because they belong to Christ, they live in Christ, and Christ lives in them. (From The Orthodox Church, by Father Sergius Bulgakov (1871-1944), revised translation by St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1988)
the rhythms. the seasons. the pace. absent from and present. invested and detached. the familiar and the alien.
some, but not all are life-giving and some but not all life-offering. perhaps in the struggle and perhaps in the absence of struggle.
Lord, in it all work your mercy.