Summary: Jesus offers rest to His followers--from the troubles of the world, yes, but especially from the burdensome weight (the yoke) of the Law.
One of the highlights of our trip to Germany—beyond all of the historical Luther sites and exhibits—was the opportunity to visit the city of Osnabruck. There’s nothing of particular importance for Lutherans about Osnabruck. We visited purely for my own sake. My branch of the Meyer family came from Osnabruck in the late 1840s, you see. And so, visiting the city of my Great-Great-Great-Grandfather Herman Heinrich Meyer and his wife, Anna Catherine, caused me to think. To imagine. A lot has changed in Osnabruck in the past 170 years. But, still I could imagine how they may have walked down some of these same paths, before. I could imagine that one of these ancient churches could have been their congregation, where, perhaps, they exchanged vows. I imagined that one of those baptismal fonts could have been their baptismal font. I imagined that the voices echoing in those cathedrals could have once been their voices.
And then, I began to imagine “why?” Why leave Osnabruck and the Kingdom of Hanover? Why give up everything you know, everyone you love, and venture off across the Atlantic? Why risk so much—why risk your livelihood, your health, your life—to come to a foreign land, to live among people you do not know, to settle in a still-hazardous place? Was it the constant warring within the Fatherland? Was it government seizure of land, which had become common? Was it a religious cause, like CFW Walther and the Saxons? Whatever it was that brought them here, I can’t help but imagine that things must have gotten so bad, so hopeless, so wearisome there; while the prospects of a new life, a better life, a free life—well, that was too good to pass up.
And so they came, at first trying out life in Ohio, until settling on a farm in Southern Indiana in 1856. And then, some 43 years later, my Norwegian side of the family—the Isaaksons—would make a similar decision, a similar journey. Leaving everything behind; leaving behind their hopelessness, their burdens and sufferings, and setting sail for a new life, a better life. A life in America. And as they neared the shores of this land of opportunity, the Isaaksons, like millions of immigrants, beheld Lady Liberty, bearing a torch to light their way. And I imagine the hope, the joy, the excitement, the relief that washed over them in an instant.
It would be still a few more years before a certain, famous poem would be placed at the base of this Colossal statue. But, no doubt the symbolism of the Statue of Liberty conveyed in that poem rang just as true for the Isaaksons, and the Meyers before them, and to the countless immigrants who left their burdens behind. The words which read, in part: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
In our Gospel this morning, Jesus offers a similar sentiment, a similar welcome to the hurting and suffering of this world. “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” It’s not simply to immigrants he says this, but to everyone seeking a new life. A free life. He says these words to you and me. And we are so relieved to hear these words.
We are so relieved, because, let’s face it, life is hard. Life is wearisome. Life is full of burdens. From the worries of terrorism on all fronts, to the fears of the cancer coming back with a vengeance. From the troubles of making the mortgage payment on time, to the painful notion some may fear to admit of being greedy, selfish, miserly even. We see burdens of divorce—which affect not just former spouses, but children, extended family, and friends alike. We worry about job security, and what that may mean for our families and livelihood. We have children who are transitioning into becoming caretakers; or, parents who are becoming dependents. We have individuals suffering silently and alone, through fits of anxiety and depression and loneliness. These, and countless other struggles we face, day in and day out. And we look for relief. Some days, we wish we could just leave it all behind us. Start fresh. We look for a new life. A life free of these burdens. And to you, to me, today, our Lord Jesus offers it, freely!
Jesus knows our every weakness. Our every sorrow. Our every pain and burden. He sees you there, lying awake at night, wrestling with your thoughts. He who promised to be “with you always even unto the end of the age,” has been there with every painful decision you’ve had to make. And this Jesus says to you, again, today, “Come.” No matter what you’re going through, He says, “Come.” Whatever it is that has been on your mind, or the worries and fears in your heart, Jesus says, “Come.” “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”