July 5, 2020
We’re all feeling burdened right now. We’re all feeling the weight of the world—of the pandemic and of the economic crisis and of the racism that’s been exposed once again, in our country and in our lives, this deep American sin.
And as Christians we have a duty to act—we have to act. But how, exactly? What are we supposed to do? It feels so overwhelming. So impossible.
And today, in the Gospel, Jesus says: “my yoke is easy and my burden light.”
All our problems? They’re easy. All our burdens? They’re light.
I don’t mean how easy it is to wear a mask or maintain social distance, as both the governor and the archbishop have asked us to do—how really absurd it is to resist this and complain about this when we think about the real sacrifices, the truly heroic sacrifices that people have made in wars and famines and earthquakes and fires, and are still making, now, in the pandemic.
I mean that for us as Christians even real suffering and real loss are bearable, are easy, in some deep and fundamental sense, however hard they obviously are in other ways.
Almost exactly five years ago, on June 17, 2015, a twenty-one-year-old white supremacist named Dylann Roof walked into Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, took out his gun, and shot and killed nine black parishioners who had been praying and studying the Bible, including the pastor.
A few months later the new pastor, the Reverend Norvel Goff, climbed into the pulpit and preached about joy.
“I’m a little weary and worn,” he said, but “with God guiding us, we’ll be all right.” With God there is joy, there is always joy—not just happiness. There is no happiness in moments like this. But happiness is finally trivial, happiness is finally fleeting. Joy is deep and joy is enduring. “Even in the midst of trials and tribulations,” Goff proclaimed, “we still have joy.”
We have joy because we have God. We have joy because we believe in a love and a power greater than all our violence and all our hate.
This weekend we celebrate American independence and the great spirit of independence that has defined our country. But as Christians we celebrate independence every day—our freedom from fear, our freedom from the false demands of the world, our freedom from all that makes us question our worth as human beings.
Or really, what we celebrate is our dependence, what we celebrate is our need: our need for God, our need for grace. Our yoke is easy and our burden is light because we don’t bear it alone. Christ bears it for us and with us. Christ gives us rest, Christ lightens our load, and so strengthened and so restored we can go out in his name and face what we must face, and not just that, not just endure, but work in the ways we’ve been given to work to ease the burden of others.
As Abbot Jeremy puts it in his latest newsletter and video, our best and first response to all that’s happening now should be “silence”—not the silence of indifference or inaction, but the silence of prayer, first and always—”prayer as the place,” Abbot Jeremy says, “where we let the work of God radiate outward into the world.”
This whole series of the Abbot’s newsletters is wonderful, I think. You can find it on the Mount Angel Abbey website, and it’s life-giving. Indispensable. I can’t recommend it enough.
The meekness of Christ is a radical meekness. The humility of Christ is a radical humility. They might seem to have been defeated, these Christian virtues, by stupidity and ignorance and brutishness. We might seem to be have been deluded, if we try to follow our Lord’s example. God who is love is always being put to death. But we know that his death is never the end. We know that through his dying an even greater love is being released into the world. It’s filling the world. It’s the force that created the world, before time began, and it’s only when we let it come into us and let it flow through us that we can make the difference we are each called to make until the Lord comes again in his glory.
The burdens of poverty and injustice are too great to bear, and we are called to change that. They’re crushing, they’re soul-numbing, and we are called to lighten the load and restore what is fair. Christ gives us rest so that we can take his yoke upon us.
But first he gives us rest. First he gives us strength.
It’s all grace. Without him, we are nothing.
Last weekend Barb and I met our daughter and son-in-law at the Oregon Gardens, outside of Salem. We’ve not seen them in person for a long time, and it was so good to walk with them through the roses and the Day Lilies and all the summer flowers.
Our son-in-law is Chinese-Indonesian-American–his parents immigrated from Jakarta when he was a little boy–and he’s grown up in Oregon with different skin and different eyes. I love and respect him, and he’s Catholic, too, a deep and thoughtful Catholic, and so we have our faith to share.
But I don’t know what it’s like to be the only person of color in a room. I don’t know what it’s like to be stopped by the police when you don’t look like everyone else. I can only imagine, and I can only ask questions and listen.
And so we talked, and we listened, and we ate lunch together—we each brought our own.
We kept six feet apart, and we had our masks if we needed them. It was the very least we could do—it’s what we had to do—and we did it not for ourselves, but for each other.
But we weren’t really at a distance. We weren’t really far apart. For a moment we were carrying the burden together, the four of us. For a moment, together, we could feel the presence of Christ. We were free.
As Archbishop Sample said last week in The Sentinel, there are vast structural changes that need to be made, there are systemic problems requiring systemic solutions, and as Christians we need to work to find them. “It’s undeniable,” the archbishop says, “that there are still injustices that sicken segments of our society.”
But it’s to moments like this that all the changes lead and it’s for moments like this that we try to make them. We work so that everyone has the capacity and the security and the opportunity to visit their families, or to eat a quiet lunch, or to walk in a garden on a morning in June.
And it’s from these moments that all our actions should proceed. It’s where they should all begin. Because this is where God is. This is where he can be found: when we are at peace. When through him and with him we are free—when we are all free.