By Erin Weins St. John, Project Manager and Social Media Coordinator
I begin this sermon with sad and unexpected news. Rather than announcing a return to in-person worship, I must delay our gatherings yet again. The cases in our area have gone back up, and we can’t meet again until cases decline for two weeks in a row.
In our Gospel text this morning, Jesus tells us that his yoke is easy, and his burden is light. But I have to confess that today, the yoke is not very easy. This week, I have had to take on the exceptionally heavy burden of deciding not to reopen gatherings—and now, you have to take on the burden of continued separation from your church family.
So this Scripture felt a little empty when I began to read it earlier this week. But then it occurred to me—what if I’m not the person taking on God’s too-heavy yoke in this story? What if I am, instead, like the generation that Jesus mentions just before, weeping and mourning in the marketplaces, expecting God to come and wail with me?
As tempting as it might seem, I am not called to go the marketplace (or perhaps social media) to wail. Rather, I am asked to come to God for guidance and discipline. Coming to God, submitting to God, is the prerequisite to truly feeling an easy yoke and a light burden.
I had to ask myself how many times I have turned to God for comfort during the pandemic, instead of weeping and wailing? Not many. Of course I haven’t felt a light burden.
But submitting to God isn’t always an easy task.
The yoke was something put on burden animals to direct them; allowing God to put a yoke on us means being disciplined and guided by God. There is nothing simple about that. But our burden will only be easy when we stop fighting.
And we are not alone. All great spiritual leaders and saints through the years have gone through this process. They are clear: taking on God’s yoke is not something we can skip over on our spiritual journey.
But the result is priceless: great freedom. Not in instantaneous gratification of our every whim, but in the knowledge that our short-term sacrifices result in more joy and grace long-term.
In the Epistle text for today, Paul acknowledges that this discipline is hard: “we do not do what we want to do, but we do the very thing that we hate.” Our human brain is wired for this kind of short-term reward—and we are trained to sit and wail in the marketplace when this reward doesn’t come.
But in fact, when we can contain our short-term impulses and submit to God’s yoke, we find long-term rewards and true joy.
So yes, it’s difficult for us not to gather right now. But our long-term commitment to discipleship asks us to wait until we can truly regather in a loving way that is safe for our community.