This Sunday is the fourth Sunday after Trinity, as we continue through the long summer season. Whilst some kind of normality may seem to be hovering on the horizon, it still remains tantalisingly out of reach. What is life really going to be like as lockdown lifts? What will our towns and churches look like? Nobody quite knows yet. And the uncertainty is one of the hardest things.
Clearly for some people, mostly from a desire for familiarity and security, it is tempting to just ‘go back to how it was’ – but that maybe isn’t quite the best idea!! Rather, let’s grasp the opportunities to hang on to what has been good in the past three months, and let go of the toxic old patterns of life where we can. Building back better does after all require clearing the ground first, and removing the debris and weeds and all the things that kept tripping us up.
And then, once the ground is clear, what Way of Life do we want to follow? What do we want life to look like?
How we live seems to be largely predicated on how we see life. This week’s gospel speaks to exactly this. Jesus says to his followers: Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble of heart. My burden is easy, and my yoke is light.’
For most of us, hearing the phonic ‘yoke’ is more likely to make you think of eggs than oxen. However, the metaphor is a good one. A yoke was / is used to harness two animals together so they pull in unison. Often an older animal was yoked to a younger one, so the younger one would learn how to do its job of ploughing or pulling a load.
Jewish Rabbis of Jesus’ time used the word ‘yoke’ to indicate their teaching, their way of life that their disciples were to follow. The disciples were to take the rabbi’s yoke, just as a young ox is yoked with an older one, to learn how to live and work and be.
So when Jesus invites his disciples to take on his yoke – well that’s normal language. But he goes on to make the point that his yoke is easy. Implication – not all rabbis chose to interpret life and following God as an easy thing. But Jesus does. His yoke – his way of living, his teachings about following God – are easy. The burden that he puts on his followers is light.
What an incredible statement. The Son of God is saying that to follow God is not about being burdened and weighed down with requirements, but rather about lightness of being. The Way of Life, the Yoke which Jesus lays upon us is easy to bear, is designed to help and not to hinder us.
I wrote above about the need to clear the ground before we can rebuild, before new things can grow. It’s the most laborious and seemingly endless task – whether you’re looking at a building site or an untended and overgrown allotment full of cooch grass. And half the time the backbreaking labour of clearing it seems to make more mess than it removes. But finally, one day, all the debris is gone, and the clear ground is before you, ready to accept the new foundations and the new thing you want to build or plant.
Many people are reflecting that we have an almost unparalleled opportunity to do things differently. Things that were unthinkable in January are virtually normal now. The politically impossible has become the politically necessary. But on the small scale that works too.
In the various webinars and meetings I have attended over the past weeks, a particularly useful set of four questions has emerged, as a way to think about our individual personal lives and circumstances, and what we might want going forward.
1. What have I gained during Covid that I wish to keep?
2. What have I gained that I am willing to let go of?
3. What have I lost during Covid that I must have back?
4. What have I lost that I do not want to have back?
We will all have different answers to these questions, but they’re worth thinking about if we want our lives and communities in the months and years ahead to be what we truly want, instead of situations and spaces that we drift into and don’t really have control over, or ability to grow and shape as we truly want them to be.
And if our thinking and being is shaped by what Jesus invites us to, then surely the yoke and burdens that we bear in the future will be considerably lighter and easier than the ones we have borne in the past.