14th Sunday of the Year (A) 2017
‘Come to me all you who labour and are overburdened…’ This is one of my favourite passages in the who of the New Testament. All of us have burdens of one kind or another. Sometimes they are big and sometimes not so big; they are never small. Then our burdens can last a short while, others a lot longer and in some cases all our lives.
‘To be burdened’; the very phrase is so evocative. My dictionary describes the word in the following way: something that is exacting, oppressive, or difficult to bear.’ That sounds about right: I know that many of you here today will know exactly the meaning of this word burden.
And we have all kinds of burdens. There are burdens to do with anxiety; we can be weighed down by worry: especially financial worry. There will be a lot of that around today. Those who are married and have children will be anxious about their children and even grandchildren. We can be burdened by health issues; almost every week someone asks me to pray for them because they or someone they love is expecting the results of a biopsy or having an operation. We can be anxious about the future: about the economy, climate change and terrorism. There is no shortage of things to be anxious about.
Then we can be burdened in other ways; by self doubt, and self-blame, shame and guilt. This can be as bad as any other kind of burden, and because no one else knows about it, it disturbs a person in secret.
So indeed there are all kinds of burdens that we carry around with us through life. And today’s gospel is written specially for us, particularly the end when Jesus says, ‘Come to me all you who labour and are overburdend and I will give you rest.’ Dwell for a moment on those last words, ‘I will give you rest.’ Even the word ‘rest’. Wouldn’t you like to rest from you burdens. Can you imagine it? All those burdens that you have been carrying around to suddenly disappear. Wouldn’t that be wonderful. Can you even begin to imagine it?
For some this will be impossible, burdened with self-blame, shame and guilt, they will question why God would be bothered with them. And so it goes on. But God, in Christ, says to us all, come to me and I will give you rest. You must take his word seriously.
Is Christ saying that our burdens will just disappear? No, not exactly. However, he is saying that he will make them lighter, and surely any help in carrying our burdens should be music to our ears. We so often can forget God in our lives, especially when we are weighed down by anxieties and fears. And yet it is precisely at that time that he is closest to us. He is calling out to us to turn to him, to look at him, and he will give us rest.
I like to think of the famous analogy which has become known as the footprints in the sand. It is the story of someone who dies and goes to heaven. There he meets Jesus. And together they look back over his life. Jesus shows him two sets of footprints on a beach, that is how close he has been to this person throughout his life. Only the person was never aware. But then he points out to Jesus that there was only one set of footprints when times were tough, he points out to Jesus that he disappeared when he needed himmost. Jesus explains to the person that those footprints were his; that at the time he needed him most Jesus was carrying him on his shoulders. And, the man at last understood.
When you are burdened in life. Turn to Jesus who is by your side. As your friend. Isn’t it true that when you share a problem it is made easier, even though it doesn’t go away. A problem shared is a problem halved. Jesus says to us, every day of our lives, ‘come to me all you who labour and are overburdened and I will give you rest.’ There you have it. You don’t have to go it alone. You have a friend who will carry your burden, and thereby make it light. It doesn’t go away but now it becomes bearable. You can see why the gospel is good news. If you really believe this it will make such a difference in your lives.