On a radio show the other day, a seasoned reporter was sharing her experiences of a year-long assignment in which, she visited immigration ceremonies in all 50 states. She shared the stories of joy, struggle, and hardship that these newly minted American citizens endured to reach their final goal. One woman in particular was asked what she loved most about America, and she said, “there is so much to love, but it is the abundance of food and water that overwhelms me.” She added, “growing up we had to travel for miles to get water, and bread was the basic sustenance we received.” We take for granted sometimes the abundance and choices we have in this wonderful nation. In contrast to other parts of the world, we sometimes overlook that life in this great country is for the most part, filled with hope and simplicity.
We have clean water, plenty of food, adequate housing, and the freedom to pursue our heart’s desire. Even in the midst of joy, celebration, abundance, and freedom we enjoy, misfortune and heartbreak abounds. For many folks, there is suffering all around us. Life itself includes a comingling of celebration and affliction, that is the nature of life. Yet, even in the midst of calamity, Jesus offers his followers a light burden, an easy yoke, and a rest for the weary, but that doesn’t mean that all will be filled with bliss.
Some folks equate discipleship with the notion that because we follow Jesus, life will be perfect. We may be a little misled if we follow that line of thought, because following Jesus is not necessarily an offer for a life of perpetual easiness. In Jesus’ own words he said, “My yoke is easy, my burden is light,” but Jesus is not offering us a fairy-tale promise that discipleship will be pure paradise. A light burden and the rest Jesus promises us, is less about bliss, and more about a way of living in trust and faithfulness through all the circumstances of life.
The life of discipleship, filled with affliction and comfort should not be a surprise to any of us, because Jesus told us about the cost of following him. Giving up that which stands in the way of discipleship is a cost. For some of His followers, they gave up family, for others it was the love of wealth, for others it was pride, and for even others, it was comfort that had to be left behind to follow Christ. Don’t forget that we are invited to accept the invitation to lose our life, to lose that to which we hold dear because in so doing, we find who we really are. Jesus does not mix words when he speaks of the cost of discipleship.
Despite what faith demands of us, even the most faithful are challenged when in those moments in life, the unimaginable happens. For many faithful disciples, heart-breaking, nasty, tragic junk has happened and does happen. Many of God’s people have faced some form of unimaginable grief. Whether it is a broken marriage, the rejection and betrayal of trusted friends, the unexpected life-threatening disease, the real threat of losing the one we love, or the financial despair of economic breakdown, affliction happens. The easy yoke and light burden Jesus promises, seems like an empty guarantee when things like this strike close to home, but affliction in the life of the disciple happens, and it can be the greatest challenge to our accepting the easy yoke, the light burden Jesus promises.
Fran, a twenty four year old single mom and Armand her toddler son, found themselves thrust into a terrible situation. With one solitary dollar in her pocket, no money for diapers let alone formula and food, Fran’s tearful desperation revealed her hopelessness. With no child support and only a part-time, temporary job, how could she possibly sustain hers and the fragile life, which she carried? “I don’t know where to turn,” she cried in a trembling voice. In that moment, the promise of “the light burden,” seemed a million miles away. The irony was that despite her situation and helplessness, she came to the Church for comfort.
Fran dropped her previously held apprehensions and preconceived notions about religious institutions, and in her helplessness, she turned to the only hope she knew and by God’s grace, she was not disappointed. Fran experienced in tragedy, a peace that passes human understanding found only in Christ. In her tragedy, there was peace. In her hunger and hopelessness, there was food, support and a glimpse of possibility. Fran surrendered and in so doing she found comfort.
When we trust Christ, even when affliction strikes, we can find a peace in knowing that God is on our side. Affliction and comfort are a paradoxical reality that exists harmoniously in the life of trust and surrender, which we experience as disciples. In suffering, we can trust in Christ, because Christ suffered with us. He knows our afflictions and he carries our burdens, and because He does, he invites us to suffer with and for each other; that is the mission of the Church.
The vision of the Church is one of human possibility and a Kingdom without walls. Someone once said, “The church is not a museum of saints, but a hospital in which, those who are afflicted are being healed and at the same time are serving as the doctors, nurses and staff who are healing others.” Our Lord left us with a mission of imagining the possibility of the Kingdom of God here and now . . . a Kingdom of celebration and hope.
Throughout his ministry, Jesus was welcoming, accepting, and embracing the least, lost, and lonely through the common table of fellowship. Jesus welcomed the most unlikely characters by sharing life, by eating and dining with outcasts, the so-called sinners and tax collectors of his day. Who might those outcasts be in 2011? Jesus would probably be dining and celebrating with the homeless, those suffering from addiction, those on the fringe of society, but without a doubt, he would welcome and invite every one of us. The reality of our human condition is that every single one of us is in need of grace, because we all miss the mark. We all arrive at the door of grace with empty hands, seeking bread, seeking comfort, seeking reconciliation. The church is the community of grace, in which the world receives a glimpse of the abundant reconciliation and grace God extends to all.
Every Sunday morning we gather around this table to break bread and share wine; we receive the Body and Blood of Our Lord. The church is a Kingdom without walls and Jesus calls us to invite the least likely folks to join our fellowship. In the Kingdom, we share more than merely food, we invite others to engage in authentic dialogue by sharing the gospel, and by extending respect and forgiveness. When this kind of fellowship takes place, then the Kingdom of God is at hand and the joy of the Kingdom is disclosed. The Kingdom of God is a radical notion of promise, in a world fraught with self-indulgence, exclusion, and apathy. It is too easy sometimes to lose sight of our need for grace. If we do, we may find ourselves on the sidelines as critical observers of the healing into which, we are called to participate.
Paul once wrote to the Church in Corinth and reminded them, “We carry in these fragile jars of clay, an awesome power so that we may know it is from God, and not ourselves.” As recipients of grace, we cannot forget that we are temporary storage vessels, whose purpose is not to stockpile, but to share and pour out God’s abundant grace in the world. Jesus’ promise of the “easy yoke and the light burden,” becomes a reality when in the face of disaster, broken hearts, and even death, we can share the message that the God of love is with us. We are messengers of the grace we have received. “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest,” This is no fairy-tale promise, it is a way of life, it is a way of being, it is the way of living into God’s boundless love, mercy and grace.