At that time Jesus said, ‘I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. All things have been handed over to me by my Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.
’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.’
Tired. Bone tired. Too tired to talk. Too tired to think. Too tired to do anything but keep trudging: my back straining under a heavy pack, my eyes struggling to focus on the trail marked out ahead of me. Sleep was a distant memory, and hope of rest still miles (and hours) away. All I knew was that I was tired.
About the only thing I can remember from my hike up the 14,056 feet of Mt Bierstadt in Colorado is an overpowering sense of exhaustion. True, the view was magnificent (though hampered a bit by heavy snow at the summit—in August!), and the experience unforgettable. But the feeling of it—the sensation I recall, if you can call it a sensation—was extreme weariness. My limbs shook, my stomach growled, my mouth was parched, and my eyes were scratchy. I was tired as I had never before been tired. And all the long trek down from the mountaintop (a trip just as wearying as the journey up, and without the promise of a vista to spur one on), the only thought that penetrated the haze of my exhaustion were the words of Jesus in today’s reading: “Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”
Of course, Jesus did not have physical exhaustion in mind when he addressed those words to the crowds that followed him. Day-laborers and skilled craftsmen; farmers and fishermen; soldiers and domestic servants—they had all been tired before, and would surely be worn out by work once again. Jesus did not promise them respite for their aching bodies. He announced something better. Jesus called them to come and find refreshment for their weary souls. And that, surely, is a need at least as profound and almost certainly less well recognized as the need to rest our bodies.
For the weariness of the soul is familiar to us all: the laborers, the leisure class, and everyone in between. Our souls are wearied by the changes and chances of this life—the circumstances beyond our control that interrupt our plans and intrude on our promises. Our souls are wearied by the demands of others—the often unexpressed and frequently unappreciated expectations placed upon us by family and friends, bosses and business partners, coworkers and acquaintances. Our souls, at last, are wearied by the faults and failures known to ourselves alone—those things of which we are ashamed, for which we are sorry, and to which we can see no solution. Beloved, the human soul carries many heavy burdens and bears many tyrannous yokes. Jesus calls us to the freedom of his refreshment.
But here is the surprising promise for us this Lent: the rest of Jesus does not mean the end of all burdens. Like the workers who heard his promise and yet knew that they would work again, we must not assume that the rest Jesus offers will abolish labor. What Jesus intends, instead, is to set upon our shoulders the true yoke of his authority: not the wearying standard of our world nor the conflicted worries of our own hearts, but the authentic reign of God. “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me.” Christ’s authority will indeed call us to new tasks, and will lead us to take up new burdens. But the promise we hear in this season of new disciplines and special labors is that as we obediently follow the One who is “gentle and humble in heart…[we] will find rest for [our] souls.”
“For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”