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.
There was once a man who decided, believe it or not, that it couldn’t have been THAT hard for God to create human beings.
A friend challenged him to go ahead and try it himself.
So the man followed the outline in Genesis, and he bent over and formed some dirt into a human shape. He was just about to breathe the breath of life into it when a loud voice came from heaven, HEY… MAKE YOUR OWN DIRT!
We may not be able to breathe human life into a handful of dirt, but I do believe in a theology where we are called, moment by moment, to be co-creators with God. I think that’s exactly what Jesus is asking us to become when he says, Take my yoke and learn from me. . . for my yoke is easy and my burden light.
There are a couple of things we need to know about yokes in order to understand what Jesus is trying convey here.
Firstly, a yoke needs to fit well. One that fits poorly will chafe and debase. A poor fitting yoke is going to be abrasive and very uncomfortable. A well-fitted yoke would ride comfortably about the neck and shoulders.
In effect, Jesus is saying my yoke fits well. My yoke will help you get the job done. A yoke isn’t a sign of enslavement. Yokes were designed to make things easier.
Notice that Jesus never claims that all burdens will disappear, but Jesus does offer a way whereby life’s burdens will become more manageable.
Secondly, yokes were made for a PAIR of animals. This again was to make the job easier. Why? Because the job could be shared. Such shared yoking also allowed a more experienced animal to lead a lesser experienced one. It allowed one to be the master and the other to be the disciple. Yokes were meant to be shared.
And Jesus says, Take my yoke. Share my yoke.
I wonder how many of us realize the import of that request?
Jesus is saying that he wishes us to be yoked. Jesus is willing to be the other half of the team. He’ll be the master and we the disciples.
And Jesus says, My yoke is easy. It’s different from all the others. It fits perfectly. We should welcome the yoke of the Living Christ. We should never suppose that discipleship is an irksome weight around our necks. That’s like pitying the birds for having to carry around those burdensome wings!
Whenever I think of this passage of scripture my mind goes back to the marriage service in the Book of Common Prayer, specifically to the Blessing of the Rings.
We often think that the wedding rings are symbolic of infinity or eternity, no beginning and no end. That sounds plausible at first, but I don’t think it’s quite right, at least in the Episcopal tradition. If you look at the wedding service, specifically Pg. 427 in the Book of Common Prayer(The prayer of blessing of rings), it reads:
Bless O Lord, these rings to be signs of the vows by which this man and this woman have BOUND themselves to each other; through Jesus Christ our Lord.
The symbol of the rings is the symbol of being BOUND; it is the symbol of the yoke. When Jesus offers to share his yoke, he is saying, I want to become one with you, I want to enter a marriage with you, a covenant that is so close that we would be yoked for eternity.
We can find rest in Jesus the way two lovers find rest in each other.
Of course it will still be work. What marriage isn’t? But the teamwork will make it easier.
For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.
By the way, while we’re on the subject of symbols, the clergy collar is also a symbol of the yoke. . . of being bound to Jesus in an ordained ministry.
I know in my own life and ministry, that there’s no way, absolutely no way, that I could ever have made it this far if I hadn’t teamed up with Jesus; if I hadn’t let Christ take the lead!
Perhaps you’ve heard the story about the man who was being chased through ancient Rome by a hungry lion. As he raced through the streets, it became painfully clear that he was not going to escape. Sensing his fate, the man turned to face the charging beast. He fell on his knees and prayed, Dear Lord, please make this lion a Christian.
You wouldn’t believe what happened next. That lion fell immediately to his knees and began praying, Dear Lord, for this meal I am about to receive… make me truly thankful, and keep me ever mindful of the needs of others.
Have you ever felt like you were being chased by a lion?
We can turn and face the beast with confidence, if Jesus is in the other half of the yoke; if he walks beside us.
But we can’t have it both ways. We can’t move along with Jesus when it’s convenient, and then pull in our own direction whenever we feel like it. Our burdens will only become heavier.
Yokes work best when those yoked are pulling together.
Yokes work best when the load is balanced. When we don’t
have balance in our lives, the burden gets cumbersome.
Remember, we are called to be co-creators with our God, not independent contractors.
Now there’s one last thing that I think needs to be said.
After all this talk about light burdens and easy yokes and finding rest, we might want to remember that a yoke is not something you put on to go lie down and watch TV. We’re called to be co-creators, not couch potatoes. We get to take our yokes off while we’re in church on Sunday mornings. We’re sort of unhitched at the water’s edge. But I have this mental picture that during the postlude we slip back into the yoke with Jesus and together we GO FORTH TO LOVE AND SERVE THE LORD.
As noted, in the wedding service, the prayer for the blessing of rings says, Bless O Lord, these rings to be signs of the vows by which this man and this woman have BOUND themselves to each other through Jesus Christ our Lord.
I’d like to take a little license and adapt that prayer around our Gospel today:
Bless O Lord, our yokes to be the signs of the baptismal vows by which we have BOUND ourselves to you through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
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