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Evensong Sermon

‘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.’

This is one of my favorite passages in the Christian Scriptures. Imagine someone coming to you, with soft-voiced compassion and saying, “I will give you rest for your soul.” Wouldn’t you want to learn more? Yes, yes, please… and how can you do that?

There are so many layers of meaning in these three short verses. The more we sit with these words, either repeating them like a mantra or reflecting on them in contemplative prayer or lectio divina, the more they reveal to us. First, I think Jesus is saying that somehow, how he carries his burdens makes them feel light, while we might feel weighed down and exhausted by even a lighter load. So Jesus is asking us to enter into a sincere, authentic student / teacher relationship with him. “Let me show you a better way to carry your load and ease your suffering,” he says.

But like the best professors, once we are in graduate school, once we have learned from him, Jesus is also asking us to partner with him. Take my yoke upon you, he says. In this case, the yoke implies a kind of union of purpose and path. Like hitching 2 oxen together to share the load of the tiller being dragged behind them, in this beautiful passage Jesus invites us to take up his yoke—to share in the work that he has undertaken. He is asking us to enter into our own full expression of our innate Christ nature.

And being a student of many faith traditions, this passage shares a profound similarity for me with the Bhagavad Gita, the great Hindu “Song of God”. For the word yoga – which for most Westerners denotes an exercise routine – translated from Sanskrit actually means yoke or union.

In the BG, God, in the form of Krishna, says that a person’s everyday acts can be yoked or harnessed for the goal of union with God. I believe both Krishna and Jesus are telling us that every mundane thing we do, our regular daily tasks – from getting a coffee in the Bistro to brushing our teeth – can be harnessed as an act of devotion. When offered with a gentle and humble heart, every action can bring us closer to God.

“Come to me and I will give you rest.” I start to relax just saying the words. Try it: you don’t have to do it out loud. He is teaching us that he is always with us, always available. All we have to do is come to him.

The invitation Jesus offers us on this Advent Evensong – and every day – is to become present to the God who is always holding us, always offering us rest. Already fully present, all we need do is remember that Christ is always ready, just waiting, to lighten our load.

Because the human Jesus was fully submerged in the awareness and presence of God and the reality of the kin-dom of heaven on earth: no wonder his burden is light! And when we learn to emulate Jesus’ gentle and humble heart, we have the opportunity to open our eyes, joyfully greeting that Christ Consciousness within us and surrounding us, and partner with God’s present work of grace.

What burdens are you carrying this Advent season? Jesus isn’t telling us we can lay down our burdens; he is teaching us how to carry them; he offers us rest regardless of our burdens. When he tells us to “take his yoke” he is not only offering us help with our burdens but also to leave behind the old, worn out, the no-longer-necessary, in order to lighten our load.

What are you holding on to? In what ways can you lighten your load, take up Jesus’ yoke, his union?

I want to loosen my grip on regrets of bad decisions, forks in the road taken that sometimes took years to backtrack to find the right path. I want to feel the full weight of how God sees me as perfect in my imperfections; a cherished creation.

I want to surrender my anticipatory worry over what might happen even when there are no clouds on the horizon. I want to allow my trust and faith to strengthen, living my life free from the fear of what the future might hold.

I want to unburden myself of conditional patterns of response, unconscious or habitual ways of being in the world. Tired of thinking “I have to do it all myself,” I want to live deeply in the reality that there is the wider, deeper truth of life, that God is always always ready to help.

So I want to keep leaving behind those images and concepts of God that are inadequate, too impoverished, or no longer useful. I want to freely and joyfully take up Jesus’ yoke, seeing God everywhere, in everyone.

“Come to me,” says Jesus. Christ is already here, waiting to share our burden. We cannot attain the presence of God because we’re already totally in the presence of God. Like a fish who has no concept of water: what’s absent is awareness. As Rachel Naomi Remen wrote: “Wholeness is never lost, it is only forgotten.” Remembering our wholeness in God, we find rest for our souls.

There’s a modern version of Psalm 122* that I repeat frequently. It says, in part:

Joy drenched me when you said, “Come inside my house.” Now my feet stand within your gates, planted upon your wholeness. Yours is the place where each is welcome and all belong. For the sake of all that lives, let me speak these heart words: Peace, peace, peace.

This Advent, may we release anything that prevents us from planting our feet firmly upon God’s wholeness, yoking ourselves to the teachings of Jesus, and re-dedicating our actions and our lives to God. Amen.

*Opening to You, by Norman Fischer
NOTE: Elizabeth Nordquist’s Patheos Blog inspired me to think of what burdens I would like to lighten this season.

Review & Commentary