Labor and Rest

“Come to me, all who labor without rest…for my yoke is easy and my burden is light…” Mt. 11

Those words conjure a beast plowing the driest of fields under an unrelenting sun with the incomprehensible weight of a wooden yoke trapping the creature into a predetermined task. Somehow, the yoke itself seemed an unbearable burden, a tool of oppression. But yesterday, in a newly re-opened church masked with tape and signs of social distancing, I heard a priest reflect on those very words. And I began to see something different in them, something of the intimate connection between the created, the Creator, and the Eucharist.

He launched the homily with recollections of his experiences discussing homiletics with young priests. Masked and seated, his large frame was relaxed. His audience was familiar, his presence appreciated. His tenor was at odds with the strictures of social distancing, but his voice was rich in inflection and focus. The worst thing that could happen after a homly, he said, was that the congregation says, “So what?” Hours of reflection or preparation were not what mattered: connecting with people does matter. Making it relelvant. Making it matter. So he tore away the impression that exegesis or intellectual leaps were necessary. Know who you are talking to. Say what matters. Let Scripture speak to this time, to our time, to this moment.

His own homily, then, was not a theological treatise, but an acknowledgement of the trials of the past year and especially the past six months. Not lingering with the public or the political, he connected words born in centuries long past to the lives and experiences of today. He focused on just a few phrases from the Gospel.

28 “Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest.

29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for yourselves.

30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden light.”

And then he confided what mattered. The words are an invitation to the table of worship, to come here to spend time. Rest here, before the altar, and share those burdens and that labor. Become connected. Realize that you are never alone in that labor or those journeys. Meet again with the God who loves and cares for us, who embraces the burdens we carry, who is so deeply connected to us that we are literally yoked tome another. Lay down the burdens. Know that the struggle is neither fruitless or meaningless. Each life has significance, and ours is a God who cares so deeply for each one of us. We are continually invited to come to him. He is waiting for us.

Life is a conspiracy of circumstance. So much is simply beyond personal control, dependent on variables unknown, unexpected, unseen. There are chance encounters, magical moments and deadly turns. It is exhilirating and exhausting, sometimes all at once. In all this, there is the soft and reassuring words. “Come to me, all who labor without rest…for my yoke is easy and my burden is light…” Perhaps it was never about the beast of burden at all.

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