Yr A ~ Pentecost 5 ~ Matthew 11:28-30
I’m going to do something today that I usually don’t do. I’m going to ignore the context of the suggested scripture reading, refrain from diving inside it and drawing out the beautiful message that’s hiding in the confusing words, and just focus on three, short, powerful verses. I’m in good company. I mean, the gospel reading for today is Matthew 11:16-19 then 25-30. See, even the revered lectionary itself skips over a bunch of inconvenient or hard to interpret verses. So I’m doing that too! I’m zeroing in on the three verses that really spoke to me in my planning time. Three verses that as I read them I had to pause and catch my breath because these beautiful, pastoral, transformational words from Jesus hit me so hard.
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.
Truth is, I’m weary, and I’m carrying a heavy burden, and I need rest.
I can’t imagine there’s anyone whose calling is leadership in the church who isn’t weary by now.
Church work is always challenging on some levels (as is any work, of course) but in this season of coronavirus, and self-isolation, and fear of infection, and facemasks, working from makeshift home offices, and preaching to a camera in an empty sanctuary – well, weary doesn’t begin to describe it. Pick a synonym: tired, beat, fatigued, drained, worn-out, pooped, overwhelmed, spent. I’ve had one Sunday off since Christmas.
We’ve had to reinvent and adapt the way we do church together – worship, pastoral care, learning, connecting and supporting one another, helping in our community.
And together we’ve done wondrously good things! It’s not ideal, but it’s working, and working well. We’re making our way through this. Trying to find ways not just to survive, but to thrive.
And we’re doing it!
But it’s exhausting.
And it doesn’t help to know that it doesn’t look like it’s going to let up any time soon.
Virus infection rates are diminishing around here, but one only need watch the news to see how devastating it can be when if we were to stop being cautious, ease up on our precautions, and go ‘back to normal’ too soon.
So yeah, I’m weary. I imagine you’re weary too.
Maybe you’re weary of me whining because I’m weary!
There have been so many losses and disappointments. So many hardships. Sure, there are lots of good news stories too – thank God! Three weeks of a pickup truck at the church full of donated food for the food bank is just one such story. I absolutely don’t want to suggest that it’s all been doom and gloom without hope or joy along the way. I just need to say that doing ministry in these roller-coaster four months has made me…weary.
And everything I just lamented about has contributed to the second thing – that we’re carrying a heavy burden, a heavy load. A minute ago I tossed off the phrase ‘back to normal’.
Here’s my burden: I know we will not be going back to normal any time soon.
And I wonder if we will ever be back to normal.
That’s hard to fathom, but it’s reality.
In some ways, we don’t want to go back to normal.
In the midst of this season of pandemic (this interminable season of pandemic) we have witnessed and experienced the emergence of a deeper and more palpable awareness of issues of racial injustice in our world.
If normal means we return to living obliviously to the soul cry of ‘Black Lives Matter’ and the insights into how deeply the concepts of privilege and racism and colonialism are embedded in our culture then I hope we never go ‘back to normal’.
As far as church life goes, can you really see us just flipping a switch and returning to how we used to do things?
How long will it take before people will be comfortable enough to sing together in church again?
Or to shake hands and hug at ‘shalom’ time?
Or to have the sign of the cross placed on your forehead with oil or ashes and have hands laid on for prayer?
Or to take a cube of bread from a plate and dip the edge of it into a common cup?
So I’m carrying the heavy burden of wondering “how do I transform the way we celebrate God’s Presence together when just about every aspect of ‘how we’ve always done it’ is suddenly fraught with infectious peril.”
I know it’s not up to me alone – but I’m the resident theologian here, I’m the called minister, I’m the one whose leadership is counted on for such things. Ministry leadership has always been a blessed burden. But in this season it’s feeling more burden than blessing, and I’m not alone.
Think about all those churches who aren’t nearly as fortunate as we are as this community of faith.
What about those places who are afraid that if they don’t get back together in-person, and soon, that they won’t have a church to get back to?
How heavy a burden must it be to feel helpless on the sideline while the church crumbles around you?
Yes, that’s overstating things.
Yes, there are all sorts of things one can do while being sidelined by Covid-19.
But the terrible, heavy burden of feeling responsible for the ongoing viability of a church when the circumstances of the world all seem to be plotting against you – that’s a real, deep feeling. Doesn’t matter if it’s entirely true or not. It’s how it feels.
With all this stuff swirling in my brain, for some weird reason this week I kept hearing the lyrics to the Beatles’ song Yesterday.
I know, it’s a love song and not at all about this topic really, but bear with me.
Here’s the first verse: read on