A Sermon From All Saints’ Episcopal Church, Briarcliff Manor
Sermon preached by the Rev. Timothy E. Schenck, Rector, on July 3, 2005.
Based on Romans 7:21-8:6 & Matthew 11:25-30 (Proper 9, Year A).
“Come to me all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens and I will give you rest.” Or, as it says in the Prayer Book’s traditional language service, “Come unto me, all ye that travail and are heavy laden, and I will refresh you.”
These words of Jesus bring several images immediately to my mind. The first is Willy Loman. The sad-sack traveling salesman from Arthur Miller’s play “Death of a Salesman.” I picture him trudging through the streets with heavy bags in hand, weary of life and work, burdened by his very existence. If ever there was a soul in need of refreshment it is Willy Loman.
The second image is of me traveling through an airport. Bryna’s minding the kids – telling them that they’re not actually allowed to ride on the baggage carrousel. And I’m slowly pushing the luggage cart, car seats hanging off my shoulders, strapped down with suitcases like a beast of burden. “Come to me all you who are weary and carrying heavy burdens.”
I also have a clear image of a person who has never met Jesus Christ. Someone who seeks to “go it alone” in the world. A person determined to keep moving at all costs, despite the fact that human beings can never fully control their own destinies, let alone their own faith lives. A person unknowingly in search of rest and peace. A person restless but not comprehending the cause. People struggling to carry such burdens alone are doomed to stumble. Or at least they won’t get very far. And they need refreshment and rest for their souls.
But these words of comfort are also spoken directly to each one of us. “Come to me all you that are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” These words just make you want to collapse into the arms of Jesus. To give up the pretensions and illusions we desperately seek to convey to one another, and simply rest in God. We tire of the struggle. The loads we either refuse to or cannot put down are heavy. Emotional and spiritual baggage always is.
While we don’t always feel burdened, life does wear us down at moments. At times the feeling is particularly acute. Our burdens can make us feel like pack mules struggling with the weight of the world. Believing that if we just trudge onward, if we can only go a few more steps, things will get better.
Saint Paul was no stranger to inner struggles and burdens. Which is comforting in a sense because he doesn’t whitewash life’s difficulties. He doesn’t gloss over them. In the portion of his Letter to the Romans we read this morning, he struggles passionately with sin. We don’t know his specific demons or burdens, but it doesn’t matter. We all have them and we all need that comforting refreshment offered by Jesus. Through Paul’s words you can hear his inner battles as he cries, “Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?” And then he proclaims the answer. “There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” Paul gave his struggles, his heavy burdens to Jesus. And this allowed him to live in a place of rest and refreshment despite his afflictions. Not ease, mind you, but a profound peace of soul.
As we come to Jesus with our burdens, our baggage, our heaviness of heart, he offers us a yoke. Which at first glance is the last thing we need. When you already feel like an emotional beast of burden, a yoke seems to add insult to injury. It seals the deal. Because a yoke is another burden. When we come to Christ seeking relief and he gives us a yoke, it feels more like a millstone. Adding more weight to our already overtaxed burdens rather than offering relief.
Some of you may know that a priest’s stole symbolizes the yoke of Christ. Priests are yoked to Christ’s service in a unique way. But it’s not limited to clergy. Jesus asks us all to wear his yoke, to be drawn to him, to place our lives in his. And, ironically enough, with this yoke comes freedom. We can allow Christ to lead the way. It takes the pressure off of us. Which is why Jesus can tell us that his yoke is easy and his burden light. With Jesus a symbol of servitude becomes a symbol of freedom. Which is just another example of the paradox of the Christian life, another reminder of the “upside down” kingdom. That out of a stable a king is born; that out of death is life, that out of slavery is freedom.
So we trade our burdens for a yoke. And when we drop our baggage at Christ’s feet and accept his yoke, it doesn’t mean life is easy. He promises rest for our souls. The long-term implications are eternal life. In the short-term rest for our souls means knowledge of the peace of Christ in this world. Or as Paul says, “To set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.”
In our society, I think Jesus also offers us rest from the burdens of our frenetic lives. From the competitive, competing interests we face each day. From the pressures of attaining worldly “success.” From the burdens of being overscheduled and overcommitted. From the burdens of fear and hopelessness.
I’m thankfully going to be avoiding airports this summer. It’s more restful somehow to jam everything into the minivan. But it’s important to remember that Jesus is more than a “spiritual skycap,” charged with toting our heavy baggage for us. He is himself the final destination. The place of rest, refreshment, and peace.
© The Rev. Tim Schenck 2005