4 after Trinity

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Readings

Zechariah 9.9-12
Romans 7.15-25a
Matthew 11.16-19,25-30

Sermon

‘Come to me all you who are weary and carrying heavy burdens and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you for I am gentle and humble at heart and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden light.’

These are probably very familiar words to many of us, and maybe are some of our favourite verses in all of the gospels. And if you come exhausted and in desperate need of rest today, if you come burnt out and burdened this morning, then dwell deeply in these words. Allow Jesus to meet you in this place. Allow him to gently restore your soul and offer you his refreshment and his peace.

But these words I think, are not simply meant to be comforting words that we are invited to meditate on when we find ourselves weary and burdened. They are far more than that. They are words of invitation from Jesus to the journey of discipleship. They are words of invitation from Jesus to live with a new posture for the whole of our lives. A posture where we no longer go it alone, and strive to do things in our own strength, but accept his grace-filled invitation to walk the whole of life with him; yoked to him.

The picture of a yoke is a powerful one. That harness of wood which joined together two animals so they could share the load, and work and walk together as they pulled a cart or a plough. And often the yoke would be set up so that a less experienced animal could be trained by learning alongside a more experienced one.

And Jesus here was inviting his listeners, and us too, to join him in his yoke. His yoke was so different to the heavy yoke that the Pharisees had imposed on his listeners. For they had been weighed down with the burden of the Jewish Law with all its rules and regulations that they had to strive to keep in order to seek to be ‘good enough’ for God.

But Jesus’ invitation to share his yoke was so different to that one. It was an invitation into a relationship; a relationship with him where we are invited to be trained by him, to learn from him, to walk with him, work with him, and become more like him. A relationship where we are good enough not because of what we do but because of his grace and his death on the cross.

I love the way Eugene Peterson in his Message version of the Bible translates these verses in his contemporary paraphrase:

“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”

That is Jesus’ invitation to all of us. To keep company with him, to learn from him how to live freely and lightly as he invites us to walk, and work, alongside him.  

It is something that God has spoken much to me personally about in the last few years. For much of my early Christian life, largely because of my ‘protestant work ethic’ upbringing, I found myself striving to work hard ‘for God’ rather than seeking to live life walking ‘with God’. It was almost as if I viewed God as a demanding boss who I was desperate to please, who I would go to to receive my ‘mission’ and then I’d head off on my own to complete it in my own strength.

Icon of Christ with Abbot Mena

And then I came across a picture which completely changed this image and my whole posture of being. It is an image which I often reflect on when I think about these verses from Matthew’s gospel. It is an early Coptic icon called ‘Christ and Abbot Mena’ (or ‘Christ and his friend’ as it is called by some). The icon depicts Christ and the Abbot walking alongside each other, with Christ’s arm around the Abbot’s shoulder. In Christ’s hand is a big book – the scriptures – and in the Abbot’s hand is just a little scroll. Christ carries the burden and ‘his friend’ is given just what he needs for the commission he has been given. And as they walk together the Abbot has the privilege of blessing others and pointing them to Jesus, with Christ there beside him all the way, with his gentle arm yoked around his shoulder.

For me this picture speaks so much of what it means to share Christ’s yoke, and I often find myself, particularly in challenging and overwhelming situations, imagining myself with Jesus standing next to me with his arm round my shoulder.  For wherever we go, wherever he sends us, we are not alone, we don’t need to strive in our own strength to be good enough, but Christ is beside us, with his arm round our shoulder, and he invites us to learn from him, to walk together, work together and find rest for our souls. Perhaps this is why, even though following the way of Jesus is so challenging, that his yoke is easy and his burden light.

Questions for Reflection

Where are you burdened and heavy laden today? What does it mean for you to come to Jesus and find rest?

How does this make you reflect on the way you see God? How might this image of Christ beside you, with his arm around your shoulder, help you understand something more of what it means to take Christ’s yoke upon you?


Page last updated: 30th June 2020 5:08 PM