July 9, 2017
The Rev. Jamie Osborne
“Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. “
These words of Jesus are some of the most treasured in all of scripture. They are like a cool glass of water on a hot Montgomery summer day. The Lord of the Sabbath rest to all who are weary. Jesus describes himself, and we get to lean in and hear it. Two words. I am gentle he says. And I am humble in heart.
These words are so profound and so hope-filled that they have been put into the Book of Common Prayer as one of the available scripture passages for Compline. And this makes sense. Because Compline is prayer we offer at the end of the day. We begin by asking God to grant us a peaceful night and a perfect end.
Liturgically, it is a small rehearsal for the end of our lives, when we will entrust ourselves to the love and care of God as we enter into the darkness of death. At the end of all we have done, we will offer our trust in the goodness of God and God’s saving work on our behalf.
In Compline, when our work is done and the light turns into the darkness of the night, we enter into our rest by entrusting ourselves and all of our life to God’s care. We look the end of the day in the face and say, “I may not know what the night will bring, but I am making my home in God and I will rest.”
“Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.”
Jesus’ words are life-sustaining water for us as they were for the crowd who first heard them. Jesus was offering all those wearied and tired people a different way forward in their life with God.
The yoke was a symbol for following someone’s teaching in the way of living faithfully to God. Just like the yoke put on animals to plow fields, you would take on the yoke of the rabbi or religious leader and walk in the way they lead you. This was supposed to be life-giving and restorative, but under the leadership of the religious institution of Jesus’ day, the yoke became an oppressive burden.
And when Jesus says that his burden is easy, you can hear his judgment against the religious leaders of his day, the scribes and Pharisees. Later in Matthew, Jesus has this to say about them: “They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on the shoulders of others; but they are unwilling to lift a finger to move them.”
And so the weary people, weighed down by the burden of being told they were not holy enough, that they were not good enough, that they were not acceptable to God, they hear Jesus’ invitation to find their rest in the life he offers them.
And this is good news because the most tiring thing you can do, is live life apart from God who is the source of life itself.
You have made us for yourself and our hearts find no peace until they rest in you. That’s what St Augustine said. He lived a notoriously sinful life and then ended up becoming a saint. He was at rest because his heart had found its home. He came to rest because he had found his life in God.
Isn’t this the meaning of life? I know it’s a big question. And it is one that many people throughout human history have grappled with. But it seems like the answer to the meaning of life is to know God. At least it was for the Apostle Paul.
Standing before Athenians and foreigners at the Areopagus in Greece, Paul had this to say about God’s purpose in creating human kind: “From one ancestor God made all nations to inhabit the whole earth, and he allotted the times of their existence and the boundaries of the places where they would live, so that they would search for God and perhaps grope for him and find him—though indeed he is not far from each one of us. For ‘In him we live and move and have our being’”.
The purpose of our lives is to search for the God who is not far from each one of us, the God in whom we live and move and have our being. It’s to find more and more what it means to be alive as we find ourselves deeper in relationship with God.
And it’s when we live apart from God, the source of our life that we become weary and tired. Because we are cut off from Life itself and our very purpose.
And there are many things that can cut us off from finding our restful home in the love of God.
Sometimes it’s things we have been taught about God. Maybe it was from a preacher or some other religious figure from your past. Maybe it was a parent or friend.
Sometimes we have lost someone in our lives and we don’t feel like we can pray or worship or approach God.
Sometimes we may feel like we aren’t worthy to approach God. That we’re somehow on the outside of the circle of God’s love watching while others get to go in and live in it.
And that’s when the weariness sets in. That’s when we get tired.
I heard a story about a priest who was asked to visit a daughter’s father. He was an older man dying of cancer. So the priest walks into the father’s room and sees him propped up in bed with an empty chair beside him. The priest thought the father might have been expecting him, and mentioned the chair. But then the father asked the priest to close the door and started explaining why he had the empty chair next to his bed.
“I’ve never told anyone this, not even my daughter,” said the man, “but all my life I have never known how to pray. At the Sunday Mass I used to hear the pastor talk about prayer, but it always went right over my head. “I abandoned any attempt at prayer,” he continued, “until one day about four years ago my best friend said to me, ‘Joe, prayer is just a simple matter of having a conversation with Jesus. Here’s what I suggest. Place an empty chair in front of you, and in faith see Jesus on the chair. It’s not spooky because He promised, “I’ll be with you all days.” Then just speak to Him and listen in the same way you’re doing with me right now.’
“I tried it,” said the father, “and I like it so much that I do it a couple of hours every day. I’m careful though. If my daughter saw me talking to an empty chair, she’d send me off to the funny farm.”
The priest was moved by what the old man had shared with him. He prayed for him and anointed him with oil and left.
Two days later he got a call from the daughter. Her father had died.
“Did he seem to die in peace?” The priest asked.
“Yes,” said the daughter. “But there was something strange. In fact, beyond strange—kinda weird. Apparently just before Daddy died, he leaned over and rested his head on a chair beside his bed.”
I don’t know what burdens you are carrying this morning, that might be keeping you from finding your restful home in God. But I want you to hear today that you are loved. God knows you and made you and you matter to God. And no matter what others may have said to you or done to you. No matter what may have happened in your life that leads you to believe that you are somehow disqualified from knowing the source of life itself—let go of those burdens so you can open yourself up to the healing love of God.
Eat the Bread of Heaven given for you. Drink the cup of salvation poured out for you. And entrust your life to Jesus, gentle and humble, who loves you so much he’d never think twice about letting you lay your head in his lap to rest.