By Pastor Paula Burchill
Last week Holy Yoga started up again and our teacher Hannah made me see some of my favorite verses in a whole new way.
The verses are Matthew 11:28-30, where Jesus says, Come to me, all you who are weary and 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. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.
I have read these verses beside countless hospital beds and in nursing homes, finding great comfort in Jesus’ invitation to let him take on our burdens. In knowing Jesus walks right beside us through our darkest valleys.
Hannah talked about what a yoke actually is and how yokes are designed to work. When a farmer would make a yoke for his oxen, he would carefully fit each animal to its yoke. I had always thought yokes were yokes and you just connect two animals so they can pull a plow together. But apparently, if an animal is wearing an ill-fitting yoke, it becomes blistered and develops sores, and eventually, it becomes unable and unwilling to do the work it was made to do.
A properly and lovingly designed yoke fits an animal so well, that it can plow and work for hours, sharing the burden with the animal with whom it is yoked.
When Jesus speaks these words, I think he wants us to notice how often we walk around yoked to things to which we were never meant to be yoked. We are plagued with worry about not having enough, we are unable to forgive each other, we are so very, very busy, we long to be connected to others, but we don’t know how to reach out—these things and so many others can feel like heavy yokes around our necks that we just can’t seem to get out from under.
When Jesus says take my yoke, I think what he is offering us is freedom. It is still a yoke, but it is a yoke that fits us. A yoke we were in fact made to wear.
When we have a yoke that fits, rather than worrying we trust. Rather than clinging to anger, we forgive. Rather than adding one more thing to an already too busy schedule, we keep the Sabbath or we say no to something so we can say yes to something more important. When we long for connection, we put away our pride and call someone to invite them to coffee.
I have come to think that what Jesus is offering is a yoke we were actually meant to carry. We can learn from Jesus. He took time away to pray, which is the ultimate expression of trust, he also took time away to be on his own when things got too busy, he preached forgiveness and he surrounded himself with friends, creating family as he traveled around.
I think I know when I’m yoked to the wrong things by a sort of plaguing sense of unease, and by that bone-tired feeling of being overwhelmed. Breathing helps—just stopping to take a breath and inviting Jesus to come on in. Because his yoke is easy and his burden is light.
When you’re carrying the yoke you are meant to carry, you know your place. Sometimes I wonder if I feel so burdened because I have some sort of misplaced idea that I am in charge of the world. Or even thinking that I have to do something to save it.
Hannah helped me remember that the world has already been saved and thankfully, I’m not in charge.
But what I do have is the freedom to be yoked to those things which give me life. Frederick Buechner said our callings are where our joy meets the world’s need. This is my yoke. And thanks to Jesus being right beside me, it is easy and it is light.