Pastoral Message – September 4, 2022
Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.
This weekend we celebrate Labor Day. Early leaders of the labor movement established the holiday in the late 19th century as a day celebrating the commitment and effort of workers and giving them a day of rest. On June 28, 1894, President Grover Cleveland signed a law establishing the federal holiday of Labor Day on the first Monday in September. Informally, Labor Day also marks the end of summer and students’ return to school.
The Bible often refers to labor and work. From the earliest verses of Genesis, we hear of God’s work of creation and his rest: “And on the seventh day God finished his work which he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work which he had done.” God’s pattern of work followed by rest became Jewish law: “Six days you shall do your work, but on the seventh day you shall rest…”
In today’s Gospel, Jesus recognizes that life involves a great deal of hard work. Sometimes we can be overwhelmed with the challenges that we face in our family lives, our careers, and our spiritual lives. Sometimes we may feel that it is impossible to balance all of the competing priorities that we face. We labor each day feeling very heavily burdened. Jesus tells us that, if we turn to Him, He will not only help us but, in fact, we will find rest in Him.
Some may say that they are simply too busy to take a day of rest. Between our kids, extended families, jobs, and social commitments, spending time with Jesus can seem like one more obligation piled onto all our other obligations. The point is that we need to invite Jesus into our very busy lives. Not as one more distraction or obligation, but as a relief to our burdens. It may seem counterintuitive that adding one more thing onto our list of “to-do” items can actually ease our burdens, but that is precisely what happens when we seek help from Jesus to carry our load.
Many of us respect and appreciate those who “work hard.” We recognize their contributions whether they are young students who devote time to their studies, or athletes or musicians who put in extra practice, or parents who work two jobs to pay rent and put food on the table. In both our secular lives as well as in our spiritual lives, hard work and dedication are critical. Jesus tells us that, “Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.” Similarly, Paul warns us that, “If anyone is not willing to work, then he is not to eat, either.” These instructions help us to understand that we are partners with Christ in our efforts in this world as well as in our journey to everlasting life. If we are willing to labor, to “carry our crosses,” He will be alongside us to assist us. If we do our work in yoke (joined) with him, we will find fulfillment and experience good relationships with God and other people. However, if we expect everything to come easily with little effort on our part, we should not expect Jesus to bear the entire load.
In these difficult times, we often feel as though we are reaching the limits of what we can bear on our own. We may feel stuck – unable to move forward with our lives. If so, we need to accept Christ’s invitation and come to him, in spirit, will and desire. When we are frustrated, irritated, overwhelmed, or simply humbled by circumstances, we must ask Christ to lift our burdens and be willing to let them go, to give them to God, to let Christ bear them with and for us. True religious faith begins when we finally experience our absolute dependence on God. Jesus Christ is there for us. He will take our burdens upon his shoulders, so we can go free, freely to the God who loves us and sent Jesus to free us from those burdens we have been carrying on our own.
The “yoke” Christ asks us to put on, rather than being an additional burden, will instead lift and support us through the rigors of our daily lives. The yoke of Christ is in fact the love of God, which will also direct our steps as well as uphold us. That is why Jesus says that His yoke is “easy” and his burden is “light.”
He offers this yoke to all of us (saint and sinner alike) provided that we are sincere in our desire. Of course, forced obedience, far from being easy and light, is a heavy burden. If we want to “take the easy way out,” we might pretend to draw close to Jesus with our lips, while our hearts are far from Him. We accept His yoke when we truly accept and follow His commandments. This does not mean reluctant acceptance or forced obedience. This means lovingly embracing the commandments as a way of life. Even when they require self-denial and focus on others. When we recognize that His yoke is lined with love, we can experience the inward peace of his powerful assistance, His constant encouragement, and His compassionate consolation, that we may truly say that His yoke is easy.
So, as we celebrate Labor Day with a day of rest, let’s consider not only our physical labors, but also our spiritual labors. Let’s turn to the one who is always ready to guide and assist us in our struggles. Let’s accept His yoke and join our efforts to His.