First week of school holidays and the lectionary gives us this:
“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.”
The weekend was about teething (yet again) and the older kids have a hundred summer projects that just can’t wait, so that word rest really pops off the page for me this morning. I’m sure it isn’t just me. Rest is a popular commodity. There always seem to be more things to do than hours in the day, and everyone could benefit from a bit of down time. But this is nothing new, is it?
It is interesting to note that Christ’s promise of rest also isn’t new. These words have deep roots in the Old Testament. As the people learn to trust God, God continually calls them into relationship, promising them rest. We read this in the relationship between God and Moses. Again and again, Moses seeks reassurance and God promises him rest.
He said, ‘My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.’
When the people can travel with God, trusting that they will find guidance when they need it, they will experience God’s promised rest.
Much later, Jeremiah writes for a later pilgrim people:
Thus says the Lord:
Stand at the crossroads, and look,
and ask for the ancient paths,
where the good way lies; and walk in it,
and find rest for your souls.
But Jeremiah, like Moses, finds that the people don’t listen. Instead, they have tried to make their own proud way apart from God, and that way has not been restful. Throughout the Old Testament, this is a tension. God calls the people into close relationship and the people resist. Stories of armies and arrogance, of long travels and struggles are juxtaposed with images of coming to rest: birds landing in their nests and sheep safe in their pasture. Threaded through it all, God promises the people rest: rest from enemies and agitators, from pain, want, sorrow and fear. He promises the people a place of their own, a secure sanctuary in the midst of all things. The rest he promises is Sabbath rest writ large.
Jesus echoes all of this, in his person and in his teaching. He also shows who he is. Who else but God himself could speak these promises of rest with credibility? Here in this short passage in Matthew, we have two such promises of rest. Then, sandwiched between them, we find these revealing words:
“Take my yoke upon you and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart.”
That, too, is a revelation of identity. The God who offers us rest is gentle and humble in heart. He is the accessible teacher. Not just the Almighty Creator or the Lord of Hosts, he is the paradox beside us, humble and mighty, gentle and strong.
Sit with me, walk with me, follow me and learn.
In Jesus, we see one who understands our weariness. We learn from one who walks with us. We are humble with Christ’s own humility.
I had a rather hands-on lesson in this yesterday afternoon.
Blue has been asking me to teach him how to knit. He had borrowed a kids’ knitting book from the library, hoping to knit himself a backpack, but we settled on a simple scarf for his toy monkey. We sat sideways together on the sofa, with Blue in front and me behind, my arms around him so that we could both hold the knitting needles and see everything from the same side.
He held the needles tightly and tried to remember which way to wrap the wool. I tried to give him space to take control, to make mistakes. I tried to make myself calm when all the stitches fell off so that he, too, could be calm. Learning anything requires humility. And gentleness. And repetition.
Teaching Blue, watching his hands and working to keep us both patient, I remembered my own mum’s hands and words as she taught me how to knit. She told me that when I’d really got the hang of it, I could relax and everything would be looser and easier. She told me that I would make beautiful things.
Maybe discipleship is like this, too.
We work together, trying not to hold on too tightly. We keep each other calm and gentle. Despite the work of learning. Despite the tensions we carry. Despite the weariness of any road. We can relax and find beauty around us. Our teacher is beside us, among us, gentle and humble, too, and because he is there, we can be at rest.