"Come unto me all who are weary and heavy laden and I will give you rest"
Revd Chris Moody 4 February 2018
One of the things people most often tell me when they come to church for the first time or come back to church after being away for a long time, is that what they value most is the space that the music, the words and the beauty of the liturgy give them just to sit, think and to ‘be’. Most of us live such pressured lives, with so many goals to achieve, worries, duties and obligations, that we get trapped in one thin layer of experience. It can be simulating and exciting but, in the end, it is exhausting and we long for rest.
One of my favourite sayings of Jesus is ‘Come unto me all you who are weary and heavy laden and I will give you rest’ (Matthew 11.28).
Rest is what we long for, and we find all sorts of short-cuts to get it- shopping, alcohol, drugs, over eating, even sometimes a new relationship. Anything, so that we can get away from the gnawing internal restlessness which afflicts us. And with this restlessness and overstimulation come all sorts of other afflictions that take up most of our internal thoughts and emotions- self-pity, resentments, anxiety and anger (often against those who are closest to us).
And hard on the heels of all that, of course, comes guilt. No wonder this promise of Jesus has so much resonance for us ‘Come unto me… and rest’.
For the time we are at worship we are at the same time at rest. We are with a crowd of other people, many of whom we do not know, but it’s not the same as being with them on a crowded train or tube because we are all focussed on one thing beyond ourselves- this Thing or rather Person, which we try to name as God, or Father, or Heaven, Goodness, Beauty, Truth- in other words all that seems to be missing from our ordinary lives and existence. A Truth and a Person who always exceeds our grasp and our possession but who nevertheless touches us in the deepest part of our being. Who reminds us that we are not the squawking, irritable, touchy individual we secretly fear that we are most of the time, but also this tender, longing, expectant soul that has been with us all our lives, but who for the most part we forget is there. So, in a paradoxical fashion, to reach towards the true God in worship, immortal, invisible, God only-wise’ as the hymn puts it, this God whom we never fully comprehend; as we reach towards Him or Her (because ‘he’ is beyond gender), we get to know at the same time who we truly are.
It is an extraordinary gift- this desire and longing for the true God. We may not know how it first came to us, or how long it has lived buried inside us, but we experience it as Gift ie as grace. If we focus on it, rather than try to avoid it because it shines such a bright light on the rest of what we do or pretend to be, it becomes the source of rest, peace and joy to us- a joy, as St Paul puts it, ‘too deep for words’. No wonder St Augustine cries out in his Confessions ‘O Love, so ancient and yet ever fresh, too late have I loved Thee!
You may still be wondering what I have been talking about; how, as it were, I have got from space to grace. What I think I am talking about is an experience of the Sprit. We cannot see the Spirit and we don’t usually pray towards the Spirit in the same way that we pray to the Father or the Son, but we know the Spirit is there. And we know it- as St Paul reminds us- by tis fruits: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Galatians 5.22-23). The experience of the Spirit doesn’t always have to be intensely dramatic or sudden, for in fact the Spirit is always with you; in St John’s wonderful phrase he ‘abides’ ie he ‘rests’ in you. And all the time when you are praying, the Spirit is praying with you, to quote St Paul’s phrase again ‘with sighs too deep for words (Romans 8.26).
‘Come unto me all you who are weary and heavy laden and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn of me, for I am gentle and lowly of heart and youw ill find rest for your souls’
At the heart of this mystery of God’s presence with us- this gift that we do not deserve but only become aware of- is an even greater mystery- the life freely laid down for us on the Cross. This is something we are reminded of every time we come to this service of Holy Communion. What human pride and achievement can ever compare with the humility of God in coming down to meet us in the self-emptying of his Son upon the Cross? We can only exclaim as the apostle Thomas did when Jesus showed him his hands and his side after the Resurrection, ‘My Lord and my God’.
The space I began my sermon with is the space that is opened up within us by God’s gracious activity among us.
‘As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love (John 15.9).
‘those who love me will keep my word and my Father will love them, and we will come and make our home with them (John 14.23)
Amen: Let it be so.
Revd Chris Moody