Material for Worship on the Fifth Sunday after Pentecost

I am grateful to the Revd Moira Jamieson for preparing the reflection and prayers below to enable you to join in worship with me as I celebrate the Eucharist in the church at 8.30 and 10.30 a.m. today. Thanks also to David and Gudrun Sawyer for preparing and recording the readings.

As we begin to slowly move out of lockdown, not all of us are at ease with the changes being made, even though we want to be close to family and friends again and to regain some of our lost independence. Today’s Gospel passage, Matthew 11.16-19, 25-30, gives us some words of reassurance, that God knows what we are going through, and that He is ready to share those burdens we feel are holding us back. The words give us a picture of a gentle Jesus, standing with outstretched arms, ready to welcome us, to comfort us or to reassure us and to smooth the way before us.
In verses 8 to 15 of today’s Psalm, Psalm 145, the psalmist reflects on the graciousness and compassion of God and how, through that grace, we are enabled to make known the glories of God’s kingdom. It also speaks of Gods faithfulness and His mercy towards all who fall or turn away from Him. We see it too in his Son Jesus in our Gospel passage for today.
We can imagine Jesus welcoming home the prodigal son or inviting those with diseases to come and be healed. This invitation from Jesus was spoken to the crowds as an invitation to acknowledge the authority of who he was, or to reject it. Would they accept the testimony of John the Baptist about Jesus, or would they ignore it? Would they remain in bondage to the yoke of the law, or would they accept the yoke of Christ instead? Far from being an invitation to relax and take it easy, the invitation of Jesus was urgent and inevitable.
All of us have had more than enough time to relax during lockdown and to take it easy. We are probably wondering when we will be able to take up the invitation of Jesus to accept his yoke and get on with the practical things of being a Christian. Don’t get me wrong, many people are still able to continue doing the physical things like taking food parcels to those in isolation, doing a neighbour’s shopping or spending time on the telephone or by email to keep in contact with others.
And so, what kind of rest is it that Jesus is offering? Looking at the words used in verse 28 to 30, we could be forgiven for thinking that the kind of rest Jesus is offering is gentle, easy and light – all words found in these verses. So is it an easy rest Jesus is offering? Just to confuse us, the answer is paradoxical – it’s both yes and no. Jesus spoke of ‘rest for your souls’ and we should note well His choice of words. These words point to the inner state of a person rather than to simple physical relaxation.
The Pharisees of Jesus’ time, as we know, were preoccupied with obeying the Law which governed the inner person and expressed itself in the outward activities and words of that person. Rabbis spoke of the yoke of the law, using imagery of the harness fitted on oxen and used by the owner to direct the animals in their work. By the time of Jesus, the law had evolved into a complex and lengthy set of rules and interpretations. No human being was able to follow them all exactly, though some exhausted themselves trying.
How then do we identify the rest which Christ exemplifies and models? It’s not easy for us to picture the kind of rest Jesus is talking about in this passage. We are more accustomed to thinking of rest as refraining from effort, or as the luxury of consuming without producing. In other words, enjoying our rest without having to anything productive, although I am sure that after this long period of lockdown and the restrictions it has enforced on us, our ideas of rest will change! In this passage, Jesus is speaking of an inward rest, not an outward rest.
One way that we might find meaning for the rest that Jesus spoke of is by looking at the words he spoke in verses 25-30. Jesus began in verse 25 by thanking His Father that who He is, the Messiah, the Saviour, has been revealed according to God’s gracious will, but that His identity is hidden from those who trust in their own wisdom. However, we can give thanks that God is made known to us through his Son Jesus and He is the one who gives us a true rest. Those who follow Jesus, who rest and are justified in Him, are entrusted with issuing his invitation to the world, to ‘Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest’. It isn’t enough to enjoy fellowship with Jesus, we must also extend his summons to others, so that they too may find rest from the futility of trying to earn their salvation through human efforts. Quite a challenge for all of us to be sure!

Let us pray:
Loving Jesus, your grace alone can take away the burden that holds us back from fullness of life. Teach us to cast our cares upon you because you care for us, so that we may be free to share the burdens of those who do not yet know your love.
We pray that we may be instruments of your love in the world, reaching out to others as best we can and holding those who are struggling in our prayers. Pray for the hungry, the homeless and all who are in need, giving thanks for volunteers and charity organisations.
Loving Jesus, we know you as our Lord and Saviour. You sustain and uphold us in times of trouble, in times of need and in times of ill health. Pray for those who have contracted Covid-19, those in hospital and those at home struggling with illness of any kind. Name those who are on our hearts and minds.
Loving Jesus, you open your arms to welcome all people, even when they turn their backs on you. Thank you for all who follow your example by sharing the good news of your Gospel. Pray for the clergy and congregations throughout the Scottish Episcopal Church. Pray for our Bishop Ian and for Nerys here at St. Mary’s. Pray for those who have gone astray that they will return to a relationship with God.
Loving Jesus, you have compassion for all people and offer us eternal life when we acknowledge you as our Lord and Saviour. Comfort those whose loved ones have died and give them strength in the knowledge that they are in your loving care. Pray for those we know who have died and for their family and friends. Remember those whose anniversary falls at this time.
Merciful Father, accept these prayers, for the sake of your Son, our Saviour, Jesus Christ. Amen.

Statue of the Welcoming Christ by Trita Madden at Launde Abbey in Leicester.