Fifth Sunday After Pentecost
Matthew 11:16-19; 25-30

I went down in front of my building last night at one point and watched for about 45 minutes as my neighbors set off massive fireworks, ranging from firecrackers and Roman candles to the massive shells that seemed to shake the sidewalk that I was standing on. We may not have had the massive Macy’s Fourth of July celebration in the city, but I think that my portion of the Upper West Side easily rivaled whatever that show would have been. I went inside after a while, but the explosions kept going off, well into the early morning hours. 

And this isn’t just something that happened last night; this has been happening for the past month without one night of reprieve. If you live here in the city, there’s a good chance that your neighborhood has experienced something similar. And if your neighborhood has been shooting off fireworks like mine has been, there’s a very good chance that you’ve been woken up in the middle of the night by a large explosion at least once. I know that I at least have been kept up late at night by fireworks, and as a result, my sleep hasn’t been that great. Others have reported the same, and many of us are sleep deprived as a result. We’re physically tired. 

But more than the physical exhaustion, I think that these past few months have worn us down emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. It’s been nearly four months that we’ve been barraged with the news of the coronavirus, and it doesn’t seems as though we are close to seeing the end of it. We’re tired of being cooped up indoors all the time, not being able to see friends and family in the same way that we normally would see them. We’re worn down from hearing statistics. We’re burnt out from working so much from home, which somehow seems to take more energy than working in an office. 

And all of this has been underscored by the exhaustion of confronting the racism so pervasive in our nation and in our institutions. For some of us, that has meant being tired from protesting, from conversations, or from seeing the horrid videos. For others of us, that has meant growing tired of hearing it talked about nearly every week online and in sermons. 

But for our black siblings and siblings of color, this means a deep, painful weariness that can only come from dealing with white supremacy every single moment of life without the privilege of being able escape it for even a day; that comes with seeing your son in the face of George Floyd and your daughter in the face of Breonna Taylor. 

Poet Audre Lorde expresses it in a way that I never could in her poem “Eulogy for Alvin Frost” when she writes:

I am tired of writing memorials to black men
whom I was on the brink of knowing
weary like fig trees
weighted like crepe myrtle
with all the black substance poured into earth
before earth is ready to bear.
I am tired of holy deaths
of the ulcerous illuminations the cerebral accidents
the psychology of the oppressed
where mental health is the ability
to repress
knowledge of the world’s cruelty. [1]

Friends, grief is exhausting. Violence is exhausting. Fear is exhausting. Sickness is exhausting. Some of us are just now feeling that weariness; others have been feeling it so existentially and have felt it embodied for generations. We live in exhausting times. 

And into these times we hear Jesus speaking this morning: 

Come to me, all of you who are tired and exhausted and carrying far more than you can bear, and I will give you rest. Cast off the yoke that has been placed upon you and take up my yoke…for I am gentle and humble, and your weary souls can find rest under it. For it is easy; my burden is light. [2]

More often than not, it seems that yokes are placed on us without us having any say in it. Those who have been placed under the yoke of white supremacy have not been placed under it equally; the burden falls much heavier on some than others. Some have been placed under the yoke of religion with its rules that are seemingly impossible to bear, with its expectations that stifle our humanity and our diversity as humans. Others have been placed under the yoke of the economy, in which the burden of productivity far outweighs any expectation of capacity or health, and any who cannot bear the yoke are cast aside. 

We could go through and name the yokes that have been placed on us, those yokes that wear us thin and place a burden on our shoulders that we cannot bear. And looking throughout history, we find that we as humans have the capacity to throw off those yokes that enslave and oppress us, but it turns out that we often will just trade one burdensome yoke for another, always finding another one that will drain us of our energy, that burdens us until we cannot take another step. 

But the yoke that Christ offer to us this day is different. It’s not a yoke of productivity, a yoke of harshness or rigidity, or a yoke that places an unequal amount of burden on a select few. It’s a yoke in which we are all bound together equally, in which we all carry the load together. 

And under this yoke, we have the opportunity for rest because we are not alone. No, we are tied under this yoke with Christ—with the Body of Christ—knowing that we do not carry the burden on our own. If there are times when we find that we carrying too much and need to rest, those around us in this same yoke pick up the slack. When we have the strength to take on a little more, we do so because we know that those around us may be exhausted and in need of respite.

For some have been carrying a disproportionate load for far too long. Some are worn down from yokes that have required more than is right or just; some have been carrying burdens alone. And if in this moment you find that your burden is more than you can bear at this very moment, take that rest that Christ offers under his yoke. 

Take that rest knowing that the work will still be there when you come back to it well rested. Take that rest knowing that the work under Christ’s yoke does not depend on you alone. Take that rest knowing that the work ahead of us is not a sprint but a marathon. 

For Christ’s yoke is still a yoke of work. To be tied to Christ’s yoke is to be tied to the work of justice, of truth, of grace, and of love. It will be long; it may seem challenging. It will be exhausting at times. 

But those of us under it are yoked together. And it is together that we will complete this work so that one day we may find that eternal heavenly rest together.


[2] Matthew 11:28-30 (Paraphrased)