“Jesus, I don’t see you like I used to. I don’t feel you as I did before. I can’t hear your voice.” Where are you!?” Often times, that is my prayer when I’m having a hard week and I have had to carry the weight of the world on my shoulders. Jesus’ response to me is always a boldly stated “I’ve been here! Where have you been? I’ve been here waiting on you!” Through my embarrassment, I respond, “Oh, yeah! Why would Jesus turn from me? Jesus would never leave me. It is I who has left.” So when I get through this dialogue, I think about what has taken me from Jesus in those moments. As I reflected, Matthew 11:28-30 dropped in my spirit. “Come all who are weary and burdened. Come to me and I will give you rest. Weary and burdened. Tired and frustrated. Just come and I will give you rest. How many of us long for rest? Not the superficial “didn’t get enough sleep” rest, (though we all need it), but the soul quenching rest that comes from putting down our heavy burdens. For Jesus tells us that his yoke is easy.
I’ve been living and working in Boston for seven years and the dreaded winter is upon us. While the holiday season is now over, I love getting to attend holiday parties. When I get to these parties, the host usually offers to take my heavy winter coat and I hand it over without a second thought.
But Jesus tells me to give my “heavy winter coat” to him and I act like he’s the 3rd string quarterback I don’t want to get in the game.
Reflecting on passage from the gospel of Matthew pushes me to think about all of the areas in my life (all of the winter coats) that weigh me down. It’s the burden of feeling hopeless with all of the brokenness in our world. It’s the racism, sexism, ableism. It’s one “ism” after another. What do I do with that? Well, I just throw it on my back. I’m Tom Brady, and Jesus is my backup plan. I put Jesus in the game when I’m up 30 points. Then my grandma gets dementia and I wear that. And then I’m confronted with the absence of comprehensive education for many young people and before I know it, I’m overloaded with all these burdens. And the sad thing is that my yoke binds me to my burdens. I’ve conditioned myself to carry it all. I can do this! And I have been conditioned to think of Jesus as my back up plan. That, when I get tired of carrying it, I’ll give it up to Jesus.
We have conditioned ourselves to see Jesus as our last resort.
But Jesus tells us to take up His yoke, His burdens! We are not called to take up the things that bind us and keep us from fully experiencing the heart-changing, life-giving love and power of Christ. Jesus commands us, saying “Take my yoke and learn from me and you will find rest for your soul.”
I’m challenged by this because I was raised in a tradition where you could come into service any Sunday and people would be slain on the floor, hands lifted high in awe and worship of Jesus. In her book, The Dream of God, Verna Dozier, speaks about the challenge of the modern church, saying “The church as an institution, has again and again fallen away from the dream that God has for us- to follow Jesus and not to merely worship Him.”
It’s not just to worship Jesus on Sundays or sing the songs that get our hearts pumping, but it is to follow Jesus and to follow Jesus’ teachings.
There is a song I love to sing and one verse speaks about Jesus as a burden bearer and a heavy load sharer. And I sing that song at the top of my lungs and then go throughout my week carrying every burden, feeling heavy and wondering “Jesus where are you at?” But this passage in the Gospel is asking us to dig into our own lives and ask “What do I need to do to feel, hear and see Jesus?” How might I be hindering that relationship where Jesus wants to literally bear my burdens? Jesus needs us to come to Him. He doesn’t ask us to carry it on our own. Jesus asks us to lay our burdens down so that we might know peace.
Jesus asks us to lay our burdens down so that we might know peace.
Each Sunday at my church, we are blessed with “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” We have the privilege of having that kind of peace, yet we make the choice to just worship Jesus instead of truly following His word and what He is asking us to do- to unfasten our yokes and take up His yoke. Could you imagine having Jesus’ yoke? I imagine it’s made of gold, but weighs like a feather. It doesn’t weigh you down, but builds you up. It frees you and that freedom brings you peace.
It is hard for God to re-clothe us in Christ when we are already fully dressed! God is challenging you to take off some garment which weighs you down – some disordered attachment, some damaging indulgence. Take it off, and leave it at the altar, and return to your life lighter.
-Br. Geoffrey Tristram, SSJE