Scripture Readings: Zechariah 9:9-12 | Psalm 145:8-15 | Romans 7:15-25a | Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30
“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.”
Where are we looking for rest these days?
By ‘rest’ I don’t just mean relaxation; the chance to unwind for a bit. But rather, I mean that sense of deep relief from our burdens, that life-giving freedom so many of us are longing for. How do we find that kind of rest? Do we even believe it exists?
In many ways we are living in a restless society: always on the go, but not necessarily getting anywhere. Constantly busy, but not really finding ourselves fulfilled… leaving us burned out, physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Weighed down by life, but unsure where to turn for help. This is nothing new, but recently, we have seen it in a new light.
I don’t know about you, but I have found these last four months quite tiring. For the first time in living memory, it seemed our whole world was forced to slow down… to cease much of our busyness, to put aside all of our plans in the hopes of slowing the spread of COVID-19. Much of the things that used to fill our days, our work, our studies, our social lives, were unexpectedly interrupted, and many of us suddenly found ourselves with a lot more free time on our hands. Yet despite this sudden gift of time, many still found themselves exhausted… weighed down by all these big changes, by all the feelings of instability… by the burdens of isolation, and the hard work of adjusting everything. This has been a mentally, and emotionally, draining season for many of us. But for others, this time has been exhausting physically as well.
For those considered essential workers, including parents working from home and others taking care of children, there was no gift of extra free time… just a deeper sense of responsibility, and the pressure to keep on working. Though facing the same mental and emotional weight as the rest of us, these people had little chance to simply relax, never mind looking for lasting relief. The word ‘unrelenting’ seems fitting here. Weighed down, burdened, and with no real end in sight.
I think you probably get the point by now: many people are really weary these days… if not you and I, then our loved ones, our friends, and our neighbours. So Christ’s words from the Gospel of Matthew offer us all some much needed hope today: drawing us further into God’s story to find and receive our rest in Him.
From the start, the promise of rest has been a big part of God’s story… and for ancient Israel the word rest was deeply intertwined with redemption: with being rescued by the Living God, and set free from slavery. Every seventh day, the Sabbath, was to be a day of sacred rest:a perpetual reminder that the Living God had looked on their ancestors with compassion while they were slaves in Egypt, and had powerfully intervened to end their oppression. One day a week, as they ceased from their work, they were to remember God’s saving work… regularly receiving refreshment, and building up their strength and hope.
But by Jesus’ day, Israel had again found themselves in desperate need of rescue. Scattered by invasions and exile, oppressed for centuries by foreign empires… and now under the rule of the terrifying Romans. God’s people were longing for relief, and hoping for help from the Lord… for the Messiah, the coming king, promised by the prophets long ago who would bring God’s rest and peace to His people, just like we heard this morning, from the prophet Zechariah:
Rejoice greatly, O daughter Zion!
Shout aloud, O daughter Jerusalem!
Lo, your king comes to you;
triumphant and victorious is he,
humble and riding on a donkey,
on a colt, the foal of a donkey.
He will cut off the chariot from Ephraim
and the war-horse from Jerusalem;
and the battle bow shall be cut off,
and he shall command peace to the nations;
his dominion shall be from sea to sea,
and from the River to the ends of the earth (Zech. 9:9–10).
And so, Christ comes, sent by God to bring His divine peace and rest… to set the captives free, and bring new life into the world. Though not what anyone had expected, Jesus has come to carry on God’s work, to complete God’s rescue mission at the cost of His own life, making peace through His own blood shed on the cross.
This is the story of God’s salvation. The story at the heart of the Church: That God’s Son, Jesus Christ, gave His life to rescue the world… and that in Him God invites us all to share in His eternal life.
This is the story that we know, but is it the story we believe? Do we turn to this the story in order to find the One who offers us rest? To receive from His hand relief from our burdens, and refreshment for our souls? To guide and direct the steps we take each day?
I know that many of us are weary… God knows that we are weary… in need of new strength, hope, faith, and courage. There are challenges that lie before us, as individuals and as a community, that may seem to be too much for us to handle. And this is why Jesus our Saviour invites us again and again and again, to come to Him in our struggles… to bring to Him everything that weighs us down… as tired, and confused, and hurting, and broken, and frightened as we may be. He calls us His people to trust Him… to look to Him for help… to come to Him, to learn from Him, and to join Him in His life-giving work… not only for ourselves, but for those weighed down all around us.
“Come to me,” Christ says, “all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” As the Church, we are called to continuously receive this gracious gift from Jesus, and to join Him in His work bringing this rest and peace to His world… helping those around us to hear His call, and receive from Him true rest and redemption… and serving as His hands and feet to bring mercy to the oppressed and the weary.
So may the Holy Spirit give us the grace to come to Christ in our weakness, and find in our Saviour the strength and hope we need to follow Him into the world. Amen.