“Come unto Me, all ye that travail and are heavy laden, and I will refresh you.”
Those who are used to the traditional Book of Common Prayer will recognize this verse (Matthew 11:28) as one of the 4 Comfortable Words that are said by the priest to the congregation after the General Confession of Sin and Absolution.
And so, after hearing the difficult words of Jesus earlier in the chapter and in chapter 10, and bearing my own crosses this day, I’m ready for the Comfy Words.
I’m ready to hear, “Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” I want to hear more, and so I make the mistake of continuing to read. And what do I hear? “Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me.”
Huh? What’s this about a yoke? That sounds like something heavy, it sounds like something hard to do. It sounds suspiciously like, “He who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me” and “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.”
I suspect that there’s a cross lurking somewhere around this promised rest. And there is, so let’s go right for it and embrace it, for there’s no use denying it or avoiding it. There is a yoke to take upon you, as Jesus says, and that yoke is the cross of Christ. But what is this cross to me?
It’s an instrument of the punishment for my sins. It’s the instrument of death by which my Lord and Master and God was crucified and died. And so it is a painful reminder to me of my own sins and of the suffering my Savior bore for me.
But there’s something else. This cruel instrument of death is also the most common and famous symbol of Jesus Christ and Christians. Why would that be? There must be more to this cross than simply suffering and death.
This cross is also the holy place and time at which my God took my sins upon Himself, and so it is transformed for me into the Tree of Life, the place and time at which my Master gave His life for mine.
And so this cross must also become my cross, for on it I am united to Jesus Christ, both in His death and in His life. It is my cross as well because on it the old man in me must be crucified and put to death so that the new man may live in me. On this cross, as my Lord gave Himself up for me I must now give myself up for Him. And so I must take up this cross daily, for it’s how I take Him up.
It is a cross, it is a yoke, and it is something to bear. There are times when I don’t feel like bearing it. But that’s only because I’ve forgotten the proper way to carry it, and that’s with Him, and not by myself.
It turns out that this yoke is indeed easy, and my burden is light because He is with me carrying it with me, if only I’ll let Him. Once I allow Him to carry it, my life becomes light again because it turns out that I’m really the source of my own burdens after all. I’m the reason that life is so heavy, because I interpret my life apart from Him and try to live it without Him. And that is a hard and heavy thing!
But when I take up His yoke, which is His cross, which is Him, I find rest. Rest from my worries and rest from my fears. When I give up myself and take Him up, I remember my eternal destiny, which is to be with Him, and I remember that I can be with Him right now, if only I’ll take up His yoke.
When I take up His yoke I find rest because I can finally rest from myself and all my labors. I am constantly doing things by myself and for myself, and that makes my life heavy. Even as a Christian I find myself constantly laboring and groaning with toil, mostly because I think that it’s up to me to keep the yoke of the Law. But when I learn from Him to give myself up to the Father, I find rest for my soul again.
Let me explain it to me this way. There is, indeed, a weight, a cost, to giving myself up to God. It’s not that this weight or cost ever goes away in this life. But when I take on the yoke of Jesus, it becomes light, as His labor for the Father must have been light, even when it was objectively heavy.
It’s like the burden a husband would feel if he were carrying his wife in his arms as he fled from their house which was on fire. She might be heavy in his arms, but he would not interpret her as a burden or as heavy. Why? Because love makes even the heaviest burden light.
And that’s how we are to feel when we take Jesus Christ and put Him on us, who is our spiritual armor and our new skin.
“Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” Jesus says. “Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me.” Give up the yokes you have chosen to place on yourself, and put Jesus Christ on today instead. No matter what that human yoke is, it’s time to give it up for the yoke of Christ, the yoke of love for which you were created.
Is it a yoke of money and worry? Is it a yoke of not feeling good enough or moral enough? Maybe it’s the yoke of worldliness, that you are so consumed by your To Do lists that you never have time for the yoke of prayer and coming to Christ. Maybe it’s the yoke of guilt that needs to be removed, or the yoke of past pain.
Whatever your personal yoke is, take it off today, and take His yoke upon yourself instead. For His yoke is easy and His burden is light because He is in them and makes them so.
Some have said that when Jesus says, “My yoke is easy,” He means “My yoke fits well.” His yoke fits well, because you are a Christian, and His yoke is your yoke. You could even say that we are yoked together with Jesus, sharing His cross, sharing His labor, and most importantly of all – sharing His life.
Prayer: Father, I come to You today, accepting Your love that sent Your only-begotten Son into the world that I might not perish but have everlasting life. I take on myself today Your Son, Jesus Christ, who is the propitiation of my sins and my advocate before You each day. I come to You today, Father, through Jesus Christ, seeking the rest that only He can give me. Amen.
Point for Meditation:
What human yokes are you bearing today? What might you do to come to Jesus and replace that yoke with the one He wants to give you?
Resolution: I resolve to find one way to take off all my other yokes today and to put on Jesus Christ instead.
© 2014 Fr. Charles Erlandson