Pentecost 5A July 5, 2020 Matthew 11: 28-30
It will be five years ago tomorrow that we buried my wife, Pam. And even though so much of that day is a blur, I remember being amazed by the number of people who came pay their respects. I remember Pastor Corrine’s message and the beautiful music that was offered. And, ironically, Pam would have never let this happen, I remember running out of communion bread and resorting to sandwich buns to serve the sacrament to everyone.
These five years have, in some respects, gone by very fast and in other respects, it seems like I have been without her for an eternity. You would think that after five years the raw edge of grief would have worn off and the heartache of loss would have morphed into a settled sense of peace. And to some extent, I suppose, it has. But I still carry a weariness inside without her around. I am still burdened with a loneliness that I shoulder every day. I know this is largely of my own doing; it’s kind of crazy but I’m afraid that if I let go of the grief I will be letting go of Pam and I don’t want to lose her completely.
Maybe because of the place I am in, I think our gospel reading for today, are some of the most powerful words Jesus ever spoke. “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens and I will give you rest. 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. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” As he speaks these words to the crowd I see understanding and empathy in his eyes.
He understands their weariness. The weariness of trying to get ahead and being constantly held down. The weariness of being occupied by an unforgiving empire that only takes and never gives. The weariness of living under the power of a demanding religion that scares them to death with its rigid rules and the eternal consequences they will suffer for not following them.
He also has empathy for their heavy burdens. The burden of little food on their tables and little money in their pockets. The burden of taking care of aging parents and vulnerable kids with no time to take care of themselves. The burden of life without a future and without hope.
Yes, there are some in society that aren’t troubled by such things. Those who sit in seats of power and leverage it to keep what they have and get even more. Those who keep servants and slaves to do their dirty work and allow them to stay blind to plight of the needy. Those who know how to make rules for other to follow but get away without following them themselves. But these people aren’t in this crowd Jesus is speaking to. They don’t have the need nor the time for people like him. No, these are not the people Jesus is talking to. These are not the one’s he looks upon with understanding and empathic eyes.
And the first thing he says to them is “Come to me.” It’s an invitation that promises accompaniment. If you come to him, you won’t have to face all your wearisome burdens alone. If you come to him, your circumstances may not change but you will have a companion to face them with. If you come to him, you will walk with one who models divine love and peace and you can learn from him. The yoke he speaks of is not taking on more and working harder. Instead, it’s the yoke of freedom … of letting go and resting in the “unforced rhythms of grace.” (To quote Eugene Peterson.)
When I hear Jesus say “come to me” I hear a pleading tone in his voice. He is not just asking here, he is begging. He is begging because he knows how stubborn we can be and how independent we think we have become. He is begging because he sees how desperately we need his comfort and care even if we can’t see if for ourselves. He is begging because he sees that we are lost without him and we don’t even know it. We don’t know it because we have been lost for so long that we don’t have a clue anymore that life can be different … that it can be better.
And so, like a father anxiously waiting for the return of his prodigal son … like a mother yearning to hold and protect her little girl testing her wings, Jesus is hungering and thirsting to take our yoke upon his shoulders and to carry our heavy burdens and troubles that are saddling us down. He wants us to “flee for refuge to his infinite mercy,” as we use to say in the old red Service Book and Hymnal, “seeking and imploring his grace.” And when we do that, Jesus will do what he has promised to do. He will give us rest. He will give us rest.
To be sure, it is a curious kind of rest that he gives. It is not a rest that lets us escape the real world we find ourselves in. Instead, it is a rest that frees us to love the goodness of the world that is buried beneath the trash. It is a rest that frees us to cherish the beauty of this world that is hidden under the dirt and the grime. It is a rest that lets us celebrate the wonder of the world made dim by cruelty and hatred and bloodshed.
This is the rest for our souls. This is the yoke that is easy. It is the rest and ease that comes from knowing that we are precious in God’s sight. It is a rest that is founded in faith, hope, and love, and the greatest of these is love.