Our pericope this morning comes to us from the Gospel of Matthew:
“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.” (Matthew 11:28-30 NRSV)
I like this translation from the Message: “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” (Matthew 11:28-30, MSG)
The word ‘yoke’ in the Bible is a very interesting one. It can mean many things. It can mean ‘oppression’. It can mean ‘being under the authority of something or someone.’ But, a yoke is also something that joins two persons together, just as it joins two animals together to plow the field. If we go into the Greek text, we can see that this word ‘yoke’ comes from the Greek word zeugnymi which means to connect, to join together. And for this reason, this word zeugnymi, to yoke, seems to be used of marriage. For example, in Mark 10:9, the Lord Jesus says, … what God has joined together, let not one person separate. What God has yoked together, zeugnymi, let not one-person separate. This is a clear reference to the marital union. And in this sense, the yoke of Jesus is this union to Christ.
That is why our first reading from Genesis this morning is so appropriate with the yoking of Isaac and Rebecca, a beautiful story: “Isaac was living in the Negev. He had just come back from a visit to Beer Lahai Roi. In the evening, he went out into the field; while meditating he looked up and saw camels coming. When Rebekah looked up and saw Isaac, she got down from her camel and asked the servant, “Who is that man out in the field coming toward us?” “That is my master. “She took her veil and covered herself. After the servant told Isaac the whole story of the trip, Isaac took Rebekah into the tent of his mother Sarah. He married Rebekah and she became his wife and he loved her. So, Isaac found comfort after his mother’s death”. (Genesis 24:62-67)
And, then how wonderful is the response of the Song of Solomon to be yoked with Christ is like being yoked in marriage:
“My beloved speaks and says to me:
“Arise, my love, my fair one,
and come away;
for now, the winter is past,
the rain is over and gone.
The flowers appear on the earth;
the time of singing has come,
and the voice of the turtledove
is heard in our land.
The fig tree puts forth its figs,
and the vines are in blossom;
they give forth fragrance.
Arise, my love, my fair one,
and come away.” (Song of Solomon 8:10-13)
Our New Testament Reading this morning is from Romans. St. Paul is struggling with the wrong and rights of things, the desire to live morally, righteous and holy, yet fighting within himself to make that happen. He wants to do it, but the yoke of bondage ties him up, and then in desperation he asks this heart rendering question: “Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord”! (Romans 7:24-25)
Paul answers this question with a confirmation of what Jesus is sharing with us this morning in the gospel passage. “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit”. (Romans 8:1,2,5)
The theme of the last few weeks in our Sunday readings has been about relationships. Today’s readings confirm this message once more, but it is also an invitation to enter a healthy and long-term love-relationship, an invitation to turn everything too heavy and burdensome o bear over to God. The yoke that is too heavy for us to bear, the yoke that binds us up, steals our joy, robs us of peace, and binds up our access to the freedom Christ has called us to enjoy, is a yoke that Christ says to bring to Him, and leave it at his feet. We are asked to leave our yoke of heavy burdens, to lay them down, and to leave them there.
In exchange, we are requested to exchange the heavy yoke for the light yoke of Jesus. We can call this a ‘yoke exchange’. “Come unto me all you who are carrying heavy loads, the yoke that makes you weary and loaded down with worries, anxiety, despair, loneliness, guilt or fear. Bring those burdens to the cross and leave them there. Take my yoke in exchange, for my yoke is easy and my burden light. And, you shall find rest for your souls”.
One of my favorite scriptures of the Bible is found in St. Paul’s letter to the early Galatian Church. “Stand fast therefore in the liberty, wherein Christ has set you free, and be not entangled again in the yoke of bondage. For the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, meekness, temperance and faith. Against such there is no law”. (Galatians 5:1,22-23)
What are the things that burden you? What are the things that get in the way between you and your ability to enjoy the freedom in Christ that you have been called to? Today I invite you to bring that yoke of bondage, whatever it may be, to bring it to the altar this morning and leave it there. Don’t pick it up again when you leave, but leave it there. Instead take again the yoke of Christ, the love and freedom, renewed and refreshed by the Holy Spirit. The call is going out to you today: “Come unto me all you whose yoke is heavy and burdensome. And I will give you rest. Replace the yoke of bondage with the yoke of love and freedom. “Be yoked together with me, and learn from me, for my yoke is easy and my burden is light”.
BRING YOUR BURDENS TO THE ALTAR AND LEAVE THEM THERE.
The Reverend Dr. David Madsen