WAY #29. Take My Yoke 11:28-30 Monday 7 April
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, 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.”
On Thursday nights, sometimes, on the weeks when I get it together, I sit in a darkened room with others to pray, sing and share silence for half an hour. We lay a rough-hewn wooden cross on the floor and light candles, try to block out the constant noise of the busy road outside, try to find a comfortable position on the floor or in a pew. Each week we read these words:
“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.”
Matt 11:28-30 (The Message)
In the translation I grew up with, in this passage Jesus invites us to take up his yoke and enter into his rest. It’s a confusing, contradictory invitation, laden with tension: classic Jesus material. His warm, soft words, so at odds with the cutting criticisms levelled at various towns earlier in the chapter, convey a loving welcome that we desperately need. Yet he invites us to take on his yoke – a symbol of labour, oppression, and bondage. If you are yoked, you are definitely not free. So what’s he on about?
The implication, I think, which Frank Warren draws out in The Message, is that we are already yoked; yoked to love of the world and fear of man, yoked to participation in unjust systems and harmful religion, yoked to our own hopelessly sinful and scarred selves. We’re weary and we’re burdened. Jesus offers us an alternative yoke and a burden that’s easier to bear, because he bears it with us. Not an end to labour, but life-giving, purposeful labour in the just economy of God’s kingdom. Not an end to struggle and suffering, but a context of love and hope within which to struggle and suffer. The security of being bound forever to the one who is the same ‘yesterday, today and forever’. The prospect of rest… “real rest”. This is where I come unstuck.
As I write these words I am weary from weeks of relentless busyness, mostly of my own choosing. The work of life feels endless, and it seems inevitable that all my available time will be filled. I haven’t made it to Thursday night prayers in three weeks. This forces me to confront how ready I am to take on Jesus’ yoke of labour, how unwilling to take up his offer of rest. I’m 100% Martha: happy (more or less) to pour myself into the practicalities of life, work and community; terrible at sitting and listening. Most of the time I even get away with thinking that my busyness is somehow holy, the mark of a ‘good and faithful servant’. Because didn’t he call me to serve?
But when I sit in silence before the cross, when I read the gospels, I’m reminded that I follow a saviour who both laboured and rested. Jesus slept. He ate. He withdrew to quiet places. He didn’t say yes to everyone. Sometimes he ran away. He remained humble and gentle in heart, labouring faithfully to the end.
Lord, teach us to be like Jesus.
– Bronwyn Hayward