I can’t tell you how disorienting this all seems. Today is the first time we are celebrating Eucharist at Grace since mid-March. It’s the first time we will have heard the organ, the familiar language, seen this familiar space. And all around us are reminders of the strangeness. There are in various places around this space, lingering traces of the disruptions we’ve been through. Materials from Lent, for example. Do you remember Lent Madness?
Even though our worship went on line and we continued to observe the rhythms of the church year with the help of the whole diocese, there are no signs of that here. And I don’t feel it in my bones and soul. In the absence of weekly Eucharist, in the absence of the rhythm of regular preaching and celebrating, I feel, and perhaps you do too, that my life has been interrupted for the past three months, that the absence of the guideposts of the liturgical year that provide me with direction have left me wandering and lost.
And that’s just church. The world around us seems even more disorienting. As the pandemic continues to race through our nation, the sacrifices we have made over the last months seem meaningless and we are as or perhaps more worried about what the next months will bring than we were in March or April. The widespread protests have drawn attention to the deep divisions and inequities in our society. On this weekend when we usually celebrate our national independence, prophetic voices and suffering bodies bear witness to all the ways we as a nation have fallen short of the ideals we claim to hold dear.
As we struggle to find a way forward, as we see all the ways our society seems to be collapsing around us, as we wonder what the coming months may bring, our anxiety, fear, anger threaten to overwhelm us. And with so many of the things that give us strength and provide us comfort—the relationships of friends and family, the rituals and fellowship of our faith experienced in new and unfamiliar ways, our disorientation and the emotional toll of the moment challenges us all in ways we have never been challenged before.
At this moment, on this day, in our fraught context, the words of Jesus from today’s gospel speak directly to us:
“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.”
Familiar, comfortable words. They are words I have spoken many times in the course of our Rite I Eucharist, words I hope to say many more times. They appear there as the “comfortable words” words of scripture to be recited after the confession and absolution from sin and before the offertory. Words of consolation and reassurance to us as we approach the altar have confessed our sins. In their liturgical context they are meant to assure us not only of God’s forgiveness but of God’s grace and mercy.
They are words we need to hear repeatedly but especially now when we are overcome with fear and anxiety, in the midst of our worries for our lives and livelihoods, for our loved ones, our city and community, our nation and world. We are weary and heavy burdened. We aren’t sure whether we will make it through this week, or month, or however long the pandemic continues to rage.
Jesus speaks to us, “Come to me, all you that are weary and carrying heavy burdened, and I will give you rest.” We might think that “rest” here means a respite from the world, a day off, a vacation, but it’s much more than that. It hearkens back to creation when God rested on the seventh day, blessing it and making it holy. Jesus is offering us holy rest, an opportunity to rest in his presence, to lay down our worries and our heavy burdens.
In addition to blessed and much-needed rest, Jesus offers us more in this passage. He is offering us the relationship of becoming his disciples—”Take my yoke upon you and learn from me” The use of the word “yoke” is somewhat puzzling here for it suggests that we are replacing one set of heavy burdens with another, a yoke of servitude and toil. Jesus reassures us though that his yoke is easy and his burden light. Elsewhere in the gospels, Jesus tells us that if we would follow him we must take up our crosses. So this yoke is also a cross, a sign of our commitment to follow him.
There’s another allusion here, not just to the cross but in the Jewish rabbinic tradition, “yoke” was also often used to refer to the task of obeying the Torah, the commandments of God. As discipleship meant above all, learning and listening to the teacher, when Jesus invites us to take up our yoke and learn from him, he is inviting us to become his disciples.
And in that discipleship, in that learning, by following him and taking his yoke on us, we are entering into relationship with Jesus, growing more deeply in wisdom and knowledge of him, learning to love him as he loves us. In that relationship we will find rest for our weary and burdened souls. We will find and experience God’s mercy and grace. May that relationship, may the yoke of Jesus Christ, strengthen us and fill us with hope for the days to come.