Ever-present God, inhabiting each moment with us: grant us grace today to participate in the sacrament of time, joyfully creating, producing, serving, playing, connecting, and enjoying. Save us from hurry, striving, self-indulgence, and everything that would distract us from the goodness of the present moment. Empower us to be and do today in constant awareness of your presence permeating all things, that we could become a people who are completely at home in you; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
“Come to me, all you who are struggling hard and carrying heavy loads, and I will give you rest. Put on my yoke, and learn from me. I’m gentle and humble. And you will find rest for yourselves. My yoke is easy to bear, and my burden is light.”Jesus (Matt 11:28-30 CEB)
Probably the most difficult part of receiving the easy yoke of Jesus is removing whatever yoke we’re currently wearing that is making us struggle hard under its weight. Jesus is speaking of replacing our heavy loads with his light burden, our hard yokes with his easy yoke.
Jesus speaks these famous words right after reproaching the cities that refused to repent, even after he had performed works of power in them. People who were weighed down under heavy loads that blinded them to the reality of what was taking place before their eyes. People struggling with yokes that were crushing them, but who refused to lay their hard yokes aside for the easy yoke of Jesus.
You can’t add Jesus’s easy yoke to your hard yoke. That’s now how yokes work. You can only wear one at a time. I wonder what yokes we carry that make us struggle hard under their heavy loads? What heavy loads do we need to set aside so we can repent and learn from Jesus? What yokes do we need to remove before we can receive the easy yoke of Jesus?
- The yoke of taking responsibility for other people’s feelings?
- The yoke of needing to be the smartest or funniest or most good-looking person in the room?
- The yoke of not being a bother to others?
- The yoke of needing to feel useful or helpful?
- The yoke of needing to be praised?
- The yoke of needing to never be noticed?
- The yoke of being in charge of keeping myself safe?
- The yoke of not being able to say “No” to my desires?
These are the heavy loads that are crushing us. Let’s set them aside and put on the easy yoke of Jesus and learn from him how to really live.
Empower me, O Lord, to be a node of compassion and connection today, a place where others feel safe and free to connect to their deepest feelings and desires, so we can together meet with you and repent and trust that you are holding all of us and everything together in your love, and working in all things for our good, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
In John 16, Jesus makes some interesting connections between suffering, prayer, and joy. Here’s a smattering of quotes from the passage:
You will feel anguish, but your anguish will become joy… I shall see you again, and your heart shall rejoice, and no one takes your joy away from you… whatever you request of the Father he will give you in my name… Ask and you will receive, that your joy might be complete. The Father himself loves you because you have cherished me, and have and faith that I have come forth from God.From Jesus’ discourse with his disciples in John 16
The first connection is between our joy as disciples and the act of asking and receiving (i.e. prayer). And no one can take away this joy! Jesus’ promise of unassailable joy is connected to prayer.
A second connection: this joy in prayer is linked with Jesus’s presence with the disciples. “I shall see you again, and your heart shall rejoice.” The unassailable joy we find in prayer is the same joy of communing with Jesus.
A third connection: the presence of Jesus with the disciples is connected to prayer through the sending of the Holy Spirit. “If I do not go away the Advocate is surely not coming to you; but if I go I shall send him to you.” In prayer, through the Holy Spirit, Jesus is present with us, and we receive whatever we ask in his name from the Father, which makes full our unassailable joy.
A final connection: all of this happens in the midst of suffering, not as an escape from suffering. “In the world you have suffering; but take heart–I have conquered the world.”
As we follow Jesus and resist being “conformed to the pattern of this world,” we experience suffering and anguish (just like our Lord). But right in the midst of that suffering, through prayer, through asking and receiving from the Father, through the personal presence of Jesus and communion with the Trinity through the Holy Spirit, we are filled with an unassailable joy that cannot be taken away from us.
For we know that Jesus has conquered the world system that opposes the justice and love of God. It has already been defeated, and it cannot last. We work and pray in this hope.
I’ve been reading in the Gospel of John during morning prayer this week, and I was struck by the story of the Greeks at the festival who want to see Jesus (John 12:20-36). Jesus’ response seems like a bit of a non sequitur: “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.”
In response to growing fame and celebrity, Jesus doesn’t hire a PR firm and strategize for maximum visibility… instead he moves in the opposite direction, knowing that his being “glorified” is bound up in his death.
And this isn’t just something for Jesus to do on our behalf as the singular Son of God (thought it is that). He goes on to say, “Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also…” i.e. the cross!
This is our pattern as disciples of Jesus: we walk in the way of the cross, the way of the seed that goes into the ground, the upside-down way of the kingdom of God, where we produce abundant fruit as we follow Jesus to the cross, trusting that it is simultaneously the way of life and peace, and a glory that the world cannot perceive.
Keep walking the way of the cross.