College of Canons Eucharist, 13 July 2018

July 13, 2018

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Preached by Catherine Ogle, Dean of Winchester, using Matthew 11: 25 – end, 1 Thess 2: 3 – 13, 19 – 20 at the College of Canons Eucharist on Friday 13th July 2018,

Hear what comfortable words our Saviour Christ saith unto all who truly turn to him,

‘Come to me all that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give your rest.’

So says the familiar words from the Book of Common Prayer.  These are ‘comfortable words’, intended to encourage and give strength. Jesus offers to lighten the load of those who carry heavy burdens. And his words struck a nerve, with those who laboured hard for little reward, those who struggled under the harsh weight of Roman rule, those burdened by requirements of religious law, or social prejudice and exclusion, those weighed down with guilt, remorse, grief or loss. ‘Come to me all that labour and are heavy laden and I will give you rest’.  Here is a Saviour who cares, who knows us and the burden that we bear alone.  A Saviour who is gentle and humble in heart, drawing us to him with irresistible kindness.  The one who shows us the face of God.

Today as we celebrate Swithun, so far away from us in time, but remembered still for his kindness, humility, modelling Christ among us with gentle power.

Jesus invites us to come to him, with all the burdens and baggage that we carry, and he promises rest.  But then comes the paradox.  No sooner are we offered rest, than Jesus offers us a yoke.  Take my yoke upon you, ‘for my yoke is easy and my burden is light’.

I love the old commentary by William Barclay[1] where Barclay reflects on Jesus growing up, son of a carpenter, learning the family trade. Including how to make yokes for oxen, first a rough shape from measurements and then carefully shaping the yoke on the animal itself, a tailor-made perfect fit. Enabling the ox to labour comfortably and well.  Perhaps a yoke hung outside the family shop, a sign above the door advertising ‘My yokes fit well’.

My yoke is easy, says Jesus.  I have a task for you and it’s made to measure, it fits you.

Each of us here, ordained and lay, has the task of working out our calling, our vocation as followers of Christ.  Cardinal Henry Newman said, ‘God has created me to do Him some definite service.  He has committed some work to me which He has not committed to another….therefore I will trust him, whatever I am, I can never be thrown away….’  He links there the two aspects of vocation: that God has a particular task for each one of us and we are of inestimable value.

Both discerning the task and discovering how much God loves us is the work of a life-time. A life-time to discover the fit.

And part of the challenge is discerning the difference between the yoke that we design for ourselves, so heavy with expectation, self-justification, perfectionism, so many burdens….and the yoke that Jesus offers.  Because the yoke we create for ourselves, going it alone, may enable us to lift a great deal, but we’ll become exhausted.  The yoke that Jesus offers is quite different, it’s a shared yoke, he stands alongside us, inviting us to step into our side, to work with him and benefit from his strength. [2]

Come to me all who labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.  I’ll take the strain.

When my son was little we started to go on walking holidays, and at first the length of walks was governed by the distance that Tom could manage.  As years passed the walks got longer and – well the limits became what Mum (that’s me) could manage!  Once on a hot day, climbing, climbing up a mountain, (to come down in a cable car) I was exhausted and hot and grumpy and Tom aged about 12, decided to push me up this mountain. I’ve never forgotten the extraordinary feeling in my tired old body, of the energy of a youngster propelling me up the mountain. I want Christ’s energy beside me, behind me, ahead of me, in the labour.  The most effective yoke is for two.

Taking on Christs yoke means taking on the task.

Jesus offers us rest while giving us a task.

And the task that fits leads to joy.

In his marvellous book ‘The Shape of Living’ David Ford[3] talks about the ‘joyful responsibility’ of the Christian life.  Of God who is utterly for us and who doesn’t take away our responsibility. Of a way of life offering everything and demanding everything. The comfort is the shared yoke, and it’s fit.

I’ll close with a recent and inspirational example of service that’s as far from comfort as it’s possible to get, but shows us service, skill, fit. When we heard the news of the 12 young Thai footballers, and their coach, trapped underground, well it seemed that their entombment would be fatal. The task of rescue involving hundreds of people, from many nations, and many risked their own lives to save life. Cave divers with skill built up over many years put themselves to service, movingly tethered themselves to the youngsters one at a time, to painstakingly guide them through the dark and treacherous cave passages to surface and to safety.  Rescuing them from darkness and death, to light and life. They took on a yoke of selfless service, utterly demanding, life-giving, and ultimately joyful.

May we respond to the invitation of Christ, to be yoked with him in service, and in the process discover all the burdens that we can leave behind us, discover all that we can be, and all the life that we can share.

 

 

 

 

 

 

[1] William Barclay The Gospel of Matthew St Andrew Press 1975

[2] I’m endebted for this insight to Barbara Brown Taylor, The Seeds of Heaven, preaching the Gospel of Matthew, Canterbury Press 2016

[3] David F Ford, The Shape of Living, Canterbury Press, 2012