Gen 24:34-38, 42-49. 58-67; Psalm 45:11-18, Rom 7:15-25a; Matt 11:16-19, 25-30
"Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest." 'The comfortable words' we call them in the Book of Common Prayer. With them Jesus extends an invitation to each of us. It is an invitation that offers fulfillment. It is an invitation to unload the heavy burdens we carry. It is, if you will, Jesus’s pep talk on Stress Management. Who has not felt at one time or another the cares and burdens of life? Finding our way through life is tiring. We suffer through no fault of our own. From unemployment, unexpected expenses, marital discord, depression, illness, loss, fear! We can easily become overwhelmed with life.
On the other hand, many people go through life carrying heavy loads of their own making. They let life make them weary. They remember everything that ever happened to them. They remember the harm and damage done to them far better than the joy and affirmation they received. They won't eat macaroni and cheese because it reminds them of tough times when that was all they had to eat. They don't relate to certain groups of people because once long ago someone said something or did something to harm them. They end a friendship because of some little thing that happened. Years later even though they have forgotten the details they avoid that person. They are in fact a terrible burden both to themselves and to those around them. They never forgive; they never forget.
All of us know such people. If we are honest with ourselves, we have all been there. There is something of them in each of us.
We also know people who are able to overcome great suffering and turn it into powerful ministry. We know that they have not had an easy time. We have heard bits and pieces of their story. They have overcome great obstacles in their own lives. Yet they have time for a cup of tea with a friend. They have time to listen to the pain of others. They may not have much to say, no great words of wisdom. But they are the ones we turn to when we need a listening ear. Henri Nouwen, theologian and writer, calls them the “wounded healers” of our world.
I have such a friend. It often seemed to me when I first met her that she was not for real. She is the embodiment of selfless love. She never has a bad word for anyone. In fact she finds a way to excuse bad behaviour. I thought mistakenly that she must be from a sheltered background, but that is far from the case. She grew up with abuse, with being told that she was stupid, useless and a financial burden.
I asked her how she kept such a positive outlook on life, so free of bitterness. “I left home at sixteen,” she told me. “I started to become bitter, but then I decided to forgive my parents every day. I think that is what has made the difference. Even though I have lived apart from them all these years, I still keep in touch and try to keep the lines of communication open. There is no point in bitterness.”
Another such story is that of a friend of mine. She and her husband waited until quite late in life to begin a family. Early in the pregnancy they learned that the child would be born with Downs Syndrome. Abortion was suggested as an option, but it was not an option for them. Instead they learned everything they could about Downs. Because there were few resources in their small town, they turned to the church. Through their congregation they set up a support group. When their little girl was born they loved her and helped her to live to her full potential. They continue to support others in their community. In the process they have learned the joy of having a special child in their life.
What do such people possess that helps them not only to deal with what happens to them in life, but to reach out to others with the love of God? They have allowed themselves to be touched by Jesus. They have given the heavy burdens of life to him to carry. They have found rest for their souls.
That is what Jesus offers us in the reading today. “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls." Jesus offers himself to us as the ultimate focus of our life’s longing and searching. He is the bread we hunger for. He is the ultimate relationship we seek. It is the lovely truth at the heart of the Gospel.
“For my yoke is easy,” he continues. “My burden is light.” The yoke was commonly used in Jewish writings as meaning obedience to the law. Jesus is offering an alternative to the often legalistic and harsh adherence to the 'yoke of the law'. A yoke should not be oppressive. After all a yoke is made to ease the task of carrying a heavy load. Had Jesus, the son of Joseph the carpenter, helped to make yokes? They were 'made to measure' for a particular ox. The carpenter would rough out a yoke and then the ox would be brought in to the shop for a fitting. Jewish law had become a burden to people. Jesus offers to make the burden bearable, to lighten the load. His yoke is easy not because it makes lighter demands, but because it brings you into a relationship with Jesus who is gentle of heart.
Yet many of us go through life without ever letting go of our burdens. We get used to the weight. We become somehow attached to them. Imagine yourself trudging along a road. The air is stifling hot. You are weighed down by a heavy backpack. With every step you take you wonder if it will be your last. A car stops beside you. A friend offers you a lift. You gratefully get into the car but you never remove the backpack. You continue to bear the full weight of the load even when you are in the car.
It doesn’t make sense, does it? Yet when we are offered forgiveness we often choose to hang on to guilt. When we are offered help we often choose to go it alone.
If you are experiencing loss and grief, is there some way God wants to use your experience to bring life to others? If your life is going well, how can you give a little bit more of your time, treasure and talents to ease somebody else's pain? It begins by turning your burdens over to Jesus, by leaving them at the foot of the cross.
Life will continue to put obstacles in the way. Life is like that. To be human is to suffer. But yoked to Jesus we will be better off. His yoke will be lighter in the long run than the one we are carrying. It will mean the end of much of the tension and depression that weighs us down. It will end the discouragement and negativity under which we live. With our burden lighter, we will travel lighter and breathe more easily. It is so much easier to carry our burden when someone is sharing the load.
What is the yoke that we will be taking up? Is it the world with all of its problems? The starving, the deprived the oppressed! It is difficult to imagine that such a yoke could be easy. But it is the yoke of our Lord, the yoke he asks us to take upon ourselves. Taking up that yoke, we can lay claim to his promises that we will find rest for our souls. Amen.
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