Sacred Rest 

Loraine MacKenzie Shepherd                                                                      July 5, 2020

Matthew 11:28-30

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable to you, our God. Amen.

What are you weary of? In this heat when we don’t sleep well, our physical weariness affects every part of our day. But emotionally-charged situations also tire us. I’m weary of COVID-19 restrictions. And as they begin to loosen, I’m weary of not knowing what is safe anymore. Backyard BBQs with friends, seated far apart seem safe but sitting inside with friends at a table in a restaurant doesn’t seem prudent—at least for now. I’m weary of the ground constantly shifting. I’m weary of bad news—of self-serving despots, of violent acts of racism and transphobia, of countries with few resources and escalating COVID cases. I’m weary of judging others, when they are often carrying much heavier loads than I am. And I’m weary of judging myself.

“Come to me, every one of you who carries heavy burdens and I will give you rest,” Jesus says to us. “Take my yoke upon your shoulders 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 word yoke is a rabbinic metaphor for the difficult but joyous task of following the direction of the Torah—the first five books of the Bible. A rabbi’s interpretation of how to follow the biblical commands and wisdom was called the rabbi’s yoke.

Jesus was a rabbi to his followers and he was saying to them that if they can follow his challenging teachings and interpretations of scripture, they will eventually find the way to be easier. Not because his teachings are easy—far from it. Jesus’ teachings are demanding, even to the point of losing one’s life for the sake of the gospel. But when we try to follow Jesus’ incredibly difficult teachings, we also receive Jesus’ full forgiveness and grace when we fail. And in this grace, we are touched by Jesus’ gentleness and humility. As we rest in this grace, we can find a lightness of being. We can know that it doesn’t all fall on our shoulders. The yoke of God’s grace carries us through the times we give our best, as well as through the times we fail and through the times we try again.

There is a tremendous relief offered in this gentle teaching of Jesus. It helps us rest from the weariness of the world and from the heavy burdens we may be dealing with in our own lives. Resting doesn’t mean ignoring the problems before us or giving up. It doesn’t mean to shrug and walk away as if the problems are no longer ours. It simply means taking a Sabbath break to rejuvenate and regain perspective. It means to hold things a little lighter.

Buddhists teach us to detach from our own suffering and that of the world. It took me awhile to learn that Buddhists don’t teach resignation or disinterest. Detachment simply means not to get hooked and caught up in the emotions. When we become anxious, we are not helping anyone.

Yes, we are to pay attention to injustice, to racism, to poverty. Yes, we are to advocate for better long-term care for our seniors. Yes, we are to listen once again to a frustrated teenager with all of the compassion we can muster. But we must also listen to ourselves and be as gentle and humble with ourselves as Jesus is.

When our anxiety begins to mount, when we weary of the news, when our personal difficulties seem insurmountable, it is time to disengage, even for a moment. This is not easy to do. It takes a life-time of spiritual practice to breathe out the rising tension and breathe in the Spirit of peace. De-escalating and self-soothing should be essential teachings for children, youth and adults. These are life skills that can carry us through whatever we do, wherever we go.

When we dial down the angst and let our weary bones sit awhile, we can regain perspective. As we develop this spiritual discipline of rest, we will find ourselves better able to hold contradictions and appreciate the complexity of situations. We will be able to work against racism while appreciating the intercultural richness of our beloved country. We will be able to support better housing and clean drinking water on reserves while being grateful for government initiatives that support Indigenous leadership. We will be able to write letters of protest to our MPs while being so grateful to live in this country of Canada. With pen in one hand, I will proudly hold the Canadian flag in the other.

It is our Christian faith that strengthens our ability to do this. We learn from our gentle and humble rabbi some incredibly tough teachings about sharing privilege, power and resources with the marginalized. At the same time, our compassionate, fun-loving rabbi has shown us the importance of socializing with friends—in a backyard BBQ, COVID protocol kind of way. It’s about a balance of hard work and renewal. It’s about stepping back from trying to save the world, or our family, or ourselves all on our own and lean on the grace and wisdom of God. God’s not looking for our completed “to do list.” Rather, God wants to be with us in a relationship of love.

So don’t push yourself out of obligation. It’s time to set the “shoulds” aside and them rest for awhile. Seek in the stillness God’s spark of life placed deep within you and fan it into flame. Howard Thurman wrote, “Don’t ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive, and go do that, because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” Rest deeply in the grace of God so that you may find life abundant.