The Dean - The Very Revd Andrew Nunn
Joshua 5.13-6.20; Matthew 11.20-30
It’s hard to hear the last verses of this evening’s Second Lesson without having the music of Handel in your head
The treble voice soars as they sing ‘Come unto him all ye that labour.’ As with many of the texts included in the Messiah these verses from St Matthew’s Gospel have taken on a life of their own. But the librettist, Charles Jennens, took a liberty with the text. Jesus says ‘Come to me’ but the treble sings ‘Come to him’. We forgive it because in the context of the piece it makes sense – but the invitation that we receive is a powerful one that we mustn’t forget.
God is the God of invitation, and Jesus makes the invitation directly to us, directly to you, this afternoon – ‘Come to me’. The arms of Jesus, stretched out on the cross, hands nailed to the wood are caught in an eternal gesture of welcome, of invitation. ‘He opened wide his arms for us on the cross’, says the priest in the Eucharist.
But whether we read it, or whether a chorister sings it for us, it’s an invitation that we have to welcome. But it isn’t an invitation to an easy life.
If you have travelled you may have seen, somewhere or other, oxen working in a field, yoked, sometimes together sometimes alone, bearing a burden, taking the strain, slowly moving. Jesus is not saying that there isn’t a yoke, he isn’t saying that there isn’t a burden. What he does say is
My yoke is easy, and my burden is light.
The word that we translate as easy actually means ‘well fitted’, made for you. There is a yoke, your yoke, there is a burden, your burden, but you will be able to wear it, you will be able to bear it.
When we’re moving through Holy Week we will sometimes follow the Stations of the Cross and if we do that we get to the Fifth Station, the one with the title ‘Simon of Cyrene helps Jesus carry the Cross’. It’s a reminder of something that appears only in St Mark’s account of the crucifixion. The tradition is that Jesus has already fallen under the weight of the cross. So in order to get things moving the soldiers escorting the prisoner drag a stranger out from amongst the onlookers. He was from what we now know as Libya so maybe his clothes gave him away or it may have been that he might well have been black and so stood out in the crowd. But, for whatever reason, they make him shoulder the cross, to bear the burden, to wear the yoke.
Now Jesus does the same for you. The yoke is easy, the burden light because Jesus has already taken the weight of it on his own shoulders just as Simon took the weight on his.
Paul writing to the Christian community in Galatia gives them this instruction.
Bear one another’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfil the law of Christ.
The invitation that Jesus makes to you this afternoon, ‘Come to me’ is the invitation of one who has already taken the weight of what you’re carrying and will help you even more. Life isn’t easy, there are yokes, there are burdens, but Christ’s law of love, displayed on the way of the cross, revealed in the cross itself, is that together we bear the burden, together we make it possible, together we walk the journey.
However you are feeling you do not need to wear the yoke, bear the load alone, Jesus is alongside you, and so are your sisters and so are your brothers.