For the past two years I have been at St. Paul’s doing my field work as a seminarian. Being involved with this faith community that actively shares the love of God within this community and also with the larger community has been a rewarding experience. I thank you all for your love and support, for your encouragement and friendship. It has been a time of joy. From serving at the altar and looking out at the pews filled with familiar and new faces to preparing food for the potlucks that filled the parish hall with people. The parish hall held Bishop’s Committee meetings, Bible studies and Lenten studies and numerous potlucks. The parish hall was filled to overflowing with the Seder dinner during Holy Week and hundreds were fed during the community Thanksgiving dinner. Then there was the family movie night with kids and adults seated on the floor eating popcorn and drinking hot chocolate as we watched Polar Express. All were welcomed into the Church services and activities. And I am thankful that I was able to share these times and to visit with some of the congregation. It was a blessing to see this community grow in love and service. But the pandemic has changed all that. The last few months the pews and the parish hall have been empty. Visiting parishioners has been by phone. Bishop committee meetings and book club have been by zoom and Church services are being live-streamed. We are finding new ways to do and to be church. We have worked hard at learning and using new technologies. We are following guidelines to help stop the spread of Covid-19: we are wearing masks; we are staying home, we are keeping physically distant from each other and we are washing our hands. A few weeks have turned into months and many of us are becoming weary. We are grieving the loss of lives not only from the virus, but from the violence around our contry. We are grieving from the loss of jobs and livelihoods. Small businesses are closing unable to survive the loss of earnings. The inability to congregate, to embrace, to comfort and to console in person is a loss and carries with it a heavy burden. Fear, hopelessness, and sadness are burdens many are carrying as the numbers of corona cases increase and the isolation and separation continue. Yes this is a wearying time for ourselves, our communities, our nation, our world and for the church. But Jesus in today’s Gospel invites 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.” He invites us to come and he offers us rest. He is willingly to share our burdens, our weariness. And why is he willing to do this? Because God loves us. Why should God be mind full of us, after all we are mere specks in the vastness of creation? Because not only are we his creation, but we were created in his own image. Even more we know of his love because he sent his son to suffer and die for us. We are loved by God – a love that is unconditional and divine. Pause for a moment and think on that. We are each and every one of us loved by God – loved by the Father, loved by the Son and loved by the Holy Spirit, a Trinity of love. A love that far surpasses any other love we may ever know. Remember the hymn we sang as children: Jesus loves me, this I know for the Bible tells me so. But his love is more than promised words of scripture; can you feel it in your heart; can you feel it to the very depths of your being? Think of all the billions of people in the world and God loves each and every one of them. He loves me and he loves you. That to me is a little overwhelming, but oh so reassuring and comforting. Jesus God the one whom we meet in Matthew’s gospel, the personification of Wisdom, the son of God, Israel’s Messiah, the Crucified and Risen Lord, the One who promises true rest, Sabbath rest, loves each of us. And it is he who invites us into discipleship, he who offers to help us by taking his yoke. A yoke joins two oxen together so that they cannot go their separate ways, where one goes the other must go because they are bound together. In asking us to take up his yoke, he is asking us to bind ourselves to him. Christ’s yoke is easy for us to carry because he is carrying it with us, and taking most of the weight. Accept his yoke if you are willing to go with him.
”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.”
We will find rest. From what will God give us rest? He will give us rest from fear. We do not need to be afraid of anything in this world because God is with us. Now this not mean we can throw caution to the wind and do as we please saying God will protect me. What it means is that we are not alone, God is always with us to strengthen and defend us.
He gives us rest from hopelessness. For he is our hope and our salvation. In Jeremiah 29:11 God promises, “For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the Lord, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope.” He gives us rest from sadness. Sadness that robs us of the ability to enjoy life and not only hurts us mentally but physically as well. That is not God’s will for our lives and we were not created that way. God wants us to live a full life, a life of joy. In Psalm 30 the psalmist tells us “weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning.” And lest we forget Paul reminds us in Galatians that the fruit of the Spirit includes love and joy. (Galatians 5: 22) Be open to the rest that he promises.
It is his yoke that is easy. It is his burden that is light. It is in him that we will find rest for our weary souls, rest from fear, rest from hopelessness, rrest from sadness. All that God asks of us is to believe and to have faith in God’s promises. That is the yoke Jesus calls us to put on and we will find rest for our souls.