Grace and peace from God our Creator, hope in our Redeemer Jesus the Christ, and the promised gifts of the Holy Spirit are with you, always. Amen.
When I read the words of Jesus in this week’s gospel text, I was struck. These are beautiful words, comforting words—some of the kindest words Jesus ever says. They’re so familiar to me—I’ve read this story several times, probably. And it’s likely that these kind words are printed on posters or bookmarks or other borderline-cheesy Christian swag. But don’t let that fool you—these words are not pithy or contrived.
“Come to me, all you who 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.”
Think about the folks listening to these words—he’s talking, in this discourse, to disciples of John the Baptist, who are curious if Jesus is who John said he would be. They’re likely the definition of weary. Overworked, underpaid, undernourished, exhausted, never quite getting comfortable in their scratchy blankets and worn-through shoes. It’s either too cold or too hot, and they’ve walked so far already today. They’ve sought out this man that is going to change something. John the Baptist prophesied about a new way of being, coalescing in this man, Jesus, and they’re here to hear about what that is.
Since y’all are just getting to know me, you may or may not be surprised to hear that the Gospel always speaks to me about contemporary American politics and culture. Now don’t you worry, none of the characters in our national drama are stand-ins for Jesus—he’s still here, speaking for himself. His words rarely actually appear in the course of an election cycle.
This week, though, his words called to mind a very American idea. Humor me, a moment:
“Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame, with conquering limbs astride from land to land;here at our sea-washed sunset gates shall standa mighty woman with a torch, whose flameis the imprisoned lightning, and her nameMother of Exiles. From her beacon-handGlows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes commandthe air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
‘Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!’ cries shewith silent lips. ‘Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,the wretched refuse of your teeming shore.Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,I lift my lamp beside the golden door!’”
Do you recognize that? It's The New Colossus, a poem by the 19th-century Jewish-American Emma Lazarus, inscribed on a famous US landmark—the Statue of Liberty.
Did you see the same resemblance I saw? “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” Jesus says. Lady Liberty’s arms are similarly open, saying “give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”
Here in the United States of America (a nation of immigrants, we often say) we, historically, know a thing or two about being weary, and carrying heavy burdens. We were built by enterprising immigrants and slave labor. We are built by innovative inventors and blue-collared unions. We are built by minimum-wage earners and migrant workers. We are weary, and carry heavy burdens. We whose families are still doing this nation-building, and we whose families benefit from this nation-building, and we whose families orchestrate this nation-building, and we whose loftiest goals are to initiate new ways of nation-building. We are weary, and carry heavy burdens.
Here in the United States of America, we are processing a recent visit from Pope Francis—whose namesake we celebrate with today’s feast! Both Pope Francis and St. Francis of Assisi are celebrated as being particularly concerned with the poor and with the earth—Pope Francis speaks out often about income inequality and climate change, and St. Francis was ostracized for living among lepers and valuing the lives of animals.
Across the world, there are poor and huddled masses, who are weary and carry heavy burdens. At this very moment, there are an estimated 19 million refugees. This is horrific on a number of levels—terror and violence forced 19 million people out of their homes and into refugee camps in neighboring countries and then into other nations, hoping for asylum. No stage of fleeing a war-torn community is a good one. As they move from place to place, they are overworked, underpaid, undernourished, exhausted, never quite getting comfortable in their scratchy blankets and worn-through shoes. It’s either too cold or too hot, and they’ve walked so far already today.
Pope Francis recently called upon each European catholic parish to take in a refugee family. US Secretary of State John Kerry recently announced that we would increase our intake of Syrian refugees in the next few years, reaching 100,000 per year by 2017. These are small fractions of the total number of people seeking refuge, and we can and must do better, but each burden lifted changes a life. In these moments, we live up to the name that Emma Lazarus gave us in that first stanza—Mother of Exiles.
Jesus says to his disciples and friends and to you and to me and to Pope Francis and to 19 million refugees—come to me, all you that are weary and carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. In moments like these, I feel guilty about the reasons why I am weary, and the burdens I consider heavy. But Jesus didn’t set any parameters. The weight that you bear today is a weight he will lift. Whatever burdens you, he will help to carry. Your course load, your grocery list, your budgeting disaster, your fragile relationship; last week’s awkward conversation you can’t shake off, your fears about the future, your disappointment in a friend, the phone call you forgot to make. Your burdens are Christ’s burdens. See that’s the thing about Jesus’ radical equalization—he listens to every voice. Whatever you pray for, whatever you seek, whether you think those things are large or small, they are never beyond the scope of the love of God. You are never beyond the scope of the love of God.
Each time we gather, here, we are celebrating this knowledge. Sometimes, we’re here to be reminded, and sometimes we’re here to remind others. When we pray together, learn together, sing together, eat together, we participate in the passing over to God of that heaviness we brought with us. Here at the table we eat the bread and drink the wine that unite us with God and with all those who also eat and drink—the huddled masses, yearning to breathe free.
So, come. All you who are weary and carrying heavy burdens, God will give you rest. Come to the table, and breathe free.