July 9, 2017
Pr Michelle Sevig
I feel like I need a vacation to recover from my vacation. Ever heard anyone say that? I know I’m not the only one to express a need for more rest after vacation time. Vacation time is meant to be a relaxing, restful time away from the stresses of daily work, but all too often I find that when I return home, I’m not rested at all and need a break just to recover from the stresses of travel, full agendas and time with extended family. Yes, I’ve just returned from vacation at the lake in Minnesota, and while the time away is always wonderful and fun, I found myself weary and tired the first few days we were back.
Re-entry is hard. But as they say, there’s no rest for the weary. Or is it “there’s no rest for the wicked?” Both actually. But today I’m thinking about rest for the weary—those who are exhausted and busy. There are deadlines to be met and projects to be done, kids to transport and their activities to coordinate, homes to clean, emails to write, and congress people to call. We even schedule quality time with our families and date nights with our partners, just to make sure we can fit in all the tasks that need to be done.
Rest is certainly a gift we need. In talking about the need for rest, Wayne Muller in his book on Sabbath observes that whether he visits the rich, the poor or the middle class, the universal refrain of modern lives is “I am so busy” He adds that we wear our overwork and our exhaustion almost as a trophy and adds that “the Chinese pictograph for busy is composed of two characters ‘heart’ and ‘killing.’”
But it’s not just busyness that’s wearing us down and making us weary. There seems to be no rest for the weary who are burdened with anxiety or fear. Those who are hopeless or angry or grieving are carrying heavy burdens as well.
Yet Jesus speaks to us today as he did to the disciples who were weary and worried, “Come to me, all you that are weary and 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.”
A yoke as a means of rest seems strange. A yoke is what makes it possible for a oxen to carry a heavy load, to do the work. I learned from a farmer turned biblical scholar, that a well made yoke is fitted to the individual oxen, shaped so that it does not chafe and rub the skin raw. It’s designed so that the weight is born by the animal’s shoulders. And it matters that the oxen are yoked in pairs. Pulling a heavy load is shared by two animals who are accustomed to each other. A well shaped yoke paired with the right companion helped them be as strong as they can possibly be and helps to protect them from injuries.
Take my yoke upon you, Jesus says, and learn from me. In our worship together each week Jesus says “come to me.” Come to me you who are overburdened and overstressed. Come to me you who are weighed down and cast out because of your race, gender or orientation. Come to me when you are scared to death about the diagnosis and future treatments. Come to me with your doubts and questions, with your anger and frustration. My yoke fits you perfectly. In baptism I chose you to be connected to me and we share the load together. The weariness may not go away, but the load is lightened and we are strengthened for all of life’s work with Jesus as our companion.
The promise of rest should not be taken as guaranteed vacation time, but as God’s promise to accompany God’s people along the way. Jesus incredibly offers the rest which only the God of all creation can provide. There are many scriptural images that speak of being upheld along life’s way, including Psalm 145 which we sang today. “The Lord upholds all those who fall and lifts up those who are bowed down.” Joyce Rupp wrote a poem based on this psalm called Leaning on God. “Some people lean against fence posts, when their bodies ache from toil. And some people lean on each other, when their hearts can’t stand alone. Praise to you, the eternal lean-to, for always being there for me.”
When we fall the Lord holds us up. When our hearts can’t stand alone, we lean toward the one to whom we are attached in baptism. In this place Christ prepares a meal for all who hunger and thirst for peace. Jesus invites us all saying, “Come to me. This is my body given for you. Take and eat.” And in this small, but sacred, meal we are yoked to Christ and receive forgiveness, peace and new life, which is perhaps a new definition of rest.
As I was reading and thinking about rest this week, I discovered a new blog by a retired pastor named Steve Garnas-Holmes. He writes reflections each day about the Sunday scriptures and I’d like to share this one with you.
“The word at the center of our faith
is no secret knowledge,
no law or demand.
It is an invitation:
Come to me you who are weary and heavily burdened,
and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me.
For I am gentle and humble of heart
and you will find rest for your souls.
The giver of all life speaks to you,
one in whose presence your soul is at rest.
You are given rest
whether you feel it or not.
Set down your burdens.
Follow the voice.
This is faith, not that you believe,
But that you come.
Be with the one who wants you.
And if it seems too vain a hope
That there is actually anybody there,
Just live as if it were true.
Try on the yoke of love,
And know that you are yoked.
Bear the burden of light,
And know it doesn’t come from you.”