Pentecost 8 – July 6th, 2008
"Rest in Christ"
Summer, for many people, is a favorite time of year. For kids, its the break from school and homework. For many families, it's a chance to take a vacation together – play, relax, and get some much needed rest. The lazy days of summer, some call them. And here we are in mid-summer ourselves, with a beautiful passage from Jesus about rest for the weary laborer.
It sounds so good, doesn't it? This invitation of Jesus? It's a universal invitation, to be sure. He was not just speaking to the people who heard him, but surely also to us and to all people who would ever be. Come to me ALL who are weary, and I will give you rest. Ahh... relaxation. Jesus is giving us a vacation. Or is there more to it?
Come you who are weary and burdened, he says. And you know he's not just being literal. Being tired and sore from hard physical labor is one thing. But the weariness and burdens Jesus comes to relieve are much more tiring and heavy. They are the spiritual burdens we all carry.
You've probably got one yourself. Maybe a few. What are you carrying around today? What's your burden? Is it trouble with your spouse? Stress at work? Struggling to pay the bills and put ever-more-expensive food on the table? Are you carrying a hurt or pain so deep that few even know of it? Or is life for you just a series of fires that break out, and you weary of running from one to the next?
Are you struggling with your health? The old bones are getting a little creaky and things don't work like they used to? Maybe it's someone you love that is struggling, but you still bear the burden.
Or maybe your burden is death itself – your own, staring you in the face, closer with each breath. Or perhaps someone dear to you has gone – and your burden is living each day without their company.
Or maybe your burdens are some combination of these – but I can be fairly certain – burdened you are. We all are. We all grow weary. We all need rest.
Jesus comes with a promise today that makes our spirits yearn to hear more. Come to me... I will give you rest.
Really? If that's true, Jesus, then how come we still have so many burdens? How come we are still so weary? Most of us came to you a long time ago- we've been following you faithfully. And still we have all these – burdens. We are weighed down, and yet you promise us rest? What gives?
Ah but what does Jesus promise? That we will have no more troubles or cares with him on our side? That He is the magic bullet to solve all our problems and make us entirely happy? No. Not now anyway. But he does promise rest... for your souls.
And as we take his yoke on, and learn from him, we see that rest for our souls is far better than any other kind of rest. Stress relief – financial solvency – peace and quiet – these kinds of earthly rest may be good, but how long can they last? What good does it do when the next problem comes along?
But rest for the soul... that's eternal rest. That's the rest that only Christ can give. Yet it's that rest that God has been giving since the beginning. Already on the 7th day – when God had done all the work of creation, he rested. The Sabbath.
Jesus Christ, after finishing all the work of our salvation, after carrying the burden of our sins, after laboring under the yoke of God's wrath on the cross, when it was finished and he even gave his very life – he rested in the tomb. When the Passover Sabbath began it was Friday evening. And shortly after that Sabbath rest Jesus rose again – now in exalted form – victorious over death and hell for us all.
Because of his work, we have rest. Because he carried the burden of our sin, our souls are relieved. The burden and yoke that he offers us – the one that is easy and light – is his own righteousness. It's the life of faith, trusting in him. It's knowing that Christ our savior has done it all. It's freedom from the demands and commands of the law – freedom to live for God and do good works out of joy and love, rather than obligation or fear.
Each time our sins are forgiven, we are at rest. That's what the whole idea of Sabbath is really about, you see, rest for our souls. It's not about taking a day off from your job or trying not to do too much work around the house. Oh the legalisms some have invented to make sure no work is done on the Sabbath! But the real purpose of Sabbath is, of course, the spiritual one. Finding that rest which is Jesus Christ alone.
Does that still leave us with life's labors? For now, it may. Christ doesn't promise immediate rest from all our problems and sorrows. But he does promise to be with us through them, and to work for our good through them. He knows our weaknesses. He's walked our walk, he's taken our flesh. And he's still there for us. So bring your burdens to him in prayer, and know that he hears you.
But that's not all. There is a rest – an eternal rest – which is also our inheritance. While in this life we still carry the burdens of life in a sinful world, one day the new heaven and earth will come. One day our bodies will rise from death in glory, like Christ's own resurrected body. And the picture God paints of life for his people then – is truly one of rest. No more tears. No more hunger or thirst. No more pain. Just an eternal, perfect, communion with Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We await the fulfillment of these promises on that day. And even if we die before its arrival, we still rest in peace.
For we rest in Christ. Blessed are the dead who die in Christ, Scripture says, for they rest from their labors. And blessed are we who are weary of sin and its consequences, for we have the living, in-the-flesh Sabbath-rest, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.