Come to me, all you who are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.

Revd. Heather
Sunday, July 5, 2020 - 9:30am

Today marks 72 years since the NHS and social care system was established. The NHS describe this year as having been the most challenging in their history. Today we give thanks for all who work in the NHS and social care, for their dedication, compassion and skill as they have worked around the clock to care for the 100,000 patients with coronavirus who have needed specialist hospital treatment, and have adapted the ways in which they work. We pray too today for all who continue to suffer from coronavirus, for those at home struggling with long term symptoms of the virus, and those in hospital.    

This week has seen a couple of other coronavirus related milestones. On Wednesday we marked 100 days since the start of lockdown, and yesterday the opportunity arose for us to begin to enjoy some of our freedoms once again. I have heard lots of excitement this week about forthcoming haircuts! 

During the past few months, since coronavirus began taking a grip on UK society, I have heard it said that ‘We are all in the same storm, but not in the same boat.’ While each of us have no doubt faced some challenges, how we have each experienced the past few months varies so much depending upon our circumstances. 

I have heard many stories over the past few months of how this time has been for people. For some these months have been enjoyed - being furloughed has meant opportunities to do home improvements; for some this time has given a break from duties or meetings, more time spent relaxing in the garden; for some this time has been a challenge, a juggling act of working and home-schooling, or looking after small children, to the point of exhaustion; for some furloughing has meant financial stress and fears around lack of job security; for some it has been so lonely, and the lack of any physical contact has caused so much pain; for some it has been an anxious time, worrying about their health or the health of a loved one; for some in this community there has been the pain of losing a loved one. 

For all of us, to some degree, the uncertainty, and the separation from those we love has been hard. We have all been living through the storm that coronavirus has brought. Yet for some the impact of the storm may have been lessened by having a well appointed yacht with nice food and drink on board. For some the storm may have felt like being tossed about in a small dingy boat, constantly scooping water back out as it came in over the sides. To date each of our experiences has been different; there are many boats, and we’re not all in the same boat. 

And it is important to remember that, because when faced with decisions to make based on new ways in which we are suddenly expected to live, we can sometimes find ourselves becoming quite judgemental. ‘How dare they gather in a group that size, surely that’s more than two households’ or ‘I can’t believe they just invited someone into their house’ or ‘I can’t believe they’re sending their kids to school’ or ‘I can’t believe they’re not sending their kids to school’ or ‘I can’t believe they spent the day at the beach.’

‘I can’t believe they spent the day at the beach.’ That one really caught me out. Horrified by the lack of social distancing pictured in the media, I realised we were so close to being part of it. That glorious Tuesday we woke up, the sun was shining; I had hardly left the parish since lockdown, except to go to the Crematorium, and I said to Dominic ‘I’d love to go to Bournemouth beach today, see the sea again’ Except we couldn’t go, we had our grocery click and collect order to pick up in the middle of the day. It never crossed my mind that midweek in term time, everyone else would be heading there too!  

A colleague, Revd Kat reflected this week: ‘It can sometimes feel like whatever people do, someone is ready to criticise –  a bit like the words of Jesus in today’s gospel…

For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, “He has a demon”; 
the Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, “Look, a glutton and a drunkard, 
a friend of tax-collectors and sinners!” 
How many of us have reacted to things that have happened much more strongly than we usually would, or have been much more critical of the people around us?’

The pressures of the last few months mean we are not always at our best. St Paul knows very much what it is to wrestle with ourselves not at our best. The passage from Romans today shows a very honest wrestling between sin (that which separates us from God, that which can hurt ourselves and others) and the good that God desires for each of us. Paul knows that we cannot live up to the ideals that we set ourselves, that our self-centeredness, our desire to put ourselves first will always get in the way. And no more so than in the stress of a lockdown. Yet St Paul knows that despite that, or even because of that, God will reach out to restore us, to rescue us from sin and draw us ever closer to Godself. 

It is the same promise that we find in our Gospel reading today, from Matthew: that God will draw us to Godself. Not because we are wise or intelligent, but because we are infants. Because we are dependent upon our creator. Because we know our need of God. And when in our time of need we look to God, God will offer us rest. God will offer us rest from our weariness, from the heavy burdens that we carry. God will walk with us, carrying the load with us. God wants to welcome us, whatever burdens we are carrying, with tenderness, gentleness and peace.

I wonder what burdens have been building up in your lives over the past 100 days and you would like to lay at the feet of Jesus today? What are you missing? What is different about your life now? What extra things have you found yourself carrying? 

In the Ignatian tradition, there is an encouragement to use your imagination as a way to prayer, to imagine yourself in the Gospel stories. And so I invite you to imagine yourself in the Gospel story, perhaps sat under a tree with Jesus, or sinking into a comfy sofa, and imagine yourself putting down the burdens you carry. You may need to pick them up again, but for now – and perhaps again during the week – come and sit with Jesus, and rest in his presence. Know his tenderness, his gentleness and peace. Know that you can come to him whatever burden you are carrying. 

‘And if at some point in the next little while you find yourself about to judge someone harshly or criticise them, try first imagining them carrying a burden, and see if that might help explain their decisions or behaviours. And maybe think about how you could offer them the tenderness, gentleness and peace that Jesus offers you.’

We’re all in the same storm, but we’re all in different boats. Yet whatever our boat is like, we can trust that Jesus will offer us a safe harbour. May you know Christ’s tenderness, gentleness and peace as you come to Him. Amen.