Video of the Divine Service here.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
I don’t know about you, but I’ve always had a little trouble when Jesus says, “Take My yoke upon you.” Even if He says His yoke is easy and His burden is light, I still can’t help but think it must be heavier than what I’m carrying now. To put a yoke on my shoulders, like I’m cattle means hard work, doesn’t it? It means pulling a heavy burden, even if Jesus gives me a little help. But I’ve assumed that Jesus is inviting me to carry something that I don’t already have, that this yoke that He says to take upon myself is something I’m not already carrying. But is that what a yoke is for? Actually, it turns out, a yoke is not for making a burden more, but making it less. Have I assumed that I am light and free and independent? That I don’t have a burden right now, or that if I do, Jesus’ burden will increase mine? Is Jesus just another head of cattle to help me pull the weight?
No, I already have a burden. I’m already yoked to the weight of my own sin, and guilt, and death. I’m under the compulsion of a yoked slavery. The easiest way to see it is that we view the commandments of God and the responsibilities of our vocations as burdensome. We see the Law of God as hateful and as something from which we want to be free. It’s not just that we don’t want the yoke of Jesus; we don’t want any yoke at all. But there’s nothing you can do to get out from under that yoke of slavery to sin. There’s no way to get free of some responsibility, some duty, some requirement. Our desire to be free from God’s own commandments only shows how enslaved we are, how rebellious we are.
But we’ve got Jesus all wrong if we think that His yoke is formed to fit our shoulders. His yoke is shaped exactly like His cross. He stretches out His hands and carries the weight of sin and failure, death and destruction that we produce in the midst of our commanded responsibilities, and He brings us close to Him. Do we have—must we carry—the responsibilities of our given vocations? Yes. And the fact that those requirements never end, that love for our neighbors never ends, that we can never quite do them completely weighs us down more and more until the burden of them begins to crush us. Can we hear Jesus’ words then? Come to Me, you who labor and are heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. He is saying that the yoke we have will be exchanged for the yoke that He has. That He has carried it until it crushed Him to death. He is saying, come and learn from Me that I am humble and gentle in heart, riding a donkey to death so that your burdens become Mine.
Come and rest. That’s what this is for. That’s why we are here. And like the yoke, we sometimes misunderstand what the Lord’s Day is for. We can easily think that it’s just one more thing for us to do, one more way for us to serve God, one more place where we work. But it had better be the opposite if Jesus is not to be made a liar. Do we come to Him to rest, or to work? Do we come to Him to add to our burden, or for Him to carry it? Here, He says, is your rest, where I do My work. And He is not saying come and find Me. He is saying look, here I am! There is no physical cross standing up somewhere outside Jerusalem, to which we can travel and find our rest. He, the Crucified One, brings His cross to us. And He brings it to us, first of all, that we might find our rest in Him. Here He gives forgiveness, life, salvation, refreshment, food, nurture—rest. Christian rest is not taking a nap, not taking a day off. It is receiving the life that Jesus gives, which is receiving Him as He comes to us. Don’t mistake His rest for our responsibility. That’s what this place is for, where the people of God gather around Christ. God help us if we make His place of rest into a place of our burdens and responsibilities and work for Him.
Hear Him again: come to Me, all who labor and are heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. The burdens, weight, heaviness of this life doesn’t go away as long as we live in this world. But He bears our burdens so that the members of the Body of Christ can bear one another’s burdens. Not everyone is afflicted or weighed down in the same ways or at the same times. He comforts us in our afflictions, and then we are able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God (2 Corinthians 1:3-4ff.). But there’s no rest for the weary out there, unless there’s rest for the weary here. If people cannot find rest here, on the Lord’s Day, with Him who rested on the seventh day and was raised on the eighth, then where will they find it in all this weary world? We can do nothing for people if His rest is not proclaimed and given out here in Word and Sacrament. This is the place for rest, and He is our rest. He reminds us that this light, momentary affliction will be far surpassed by the weight of glory that has been prepared for us.
Hear Him again: come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. And He will, until that rest turns visible in the resurrection.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7, ESV). Amen.
– Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 7/7/17