"Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls."
Take a look at this image and what do you see? This is a yoke, something that was used to wrap around two animals who helped to pull a plow or to tow a covered wagon. Sadly, devices such as this also were tools to place around the necks of men and women who were taken into slavery. For many, the yoke is something that symbolizes control, toil, cruelty, and power. Those who wore the yoke felt controlled by it, felt the power behind it, and the pain of the labor that lay in front of it. How then can something that symbolizes oppression and victimization come to be known as a symbol of humility, a symbol of peace and rest?
When we read that Jesus said, "Take my yoke upon you", it must come across as s strange metaphor for living life under the Gospel. If we understand the Gospel as something that makes us free, how then can a device known to control, to enslave, to enforce labor be something that also expresses freedom and gentleness? Yet, just as the cross, an instrument of torture and execution became the symbol of the God who is present in our sufferings, so to the yoke, the symbol of oppression, becomes a symbol of humility and rest when we see Jesus in the yoke with us. When Jesus is on the other side of the yoke, we can be confident of being driven by the power of the Holy Spirit to toil in humility and gentleness with the promise that Jesus is our eternal teacher.
On Friday, I hope to have a chance to attend the ordination of one of my colleagues to the office of pastoral ministry. One of the symbols of the pastoral office, and one that is traditionally bestowed to a new pastor on her ordination is the stole. The stole is a simple garment placed over the back of the pastor's neck and left to drape down over each shoulder. It is a symbol of the yoke, the yoke of Jesus Christ to which a pastor is connected for the rest of her life. Each time a pastor dons the yoke while preparing for worship, the pastor remembers the yoke of humility and gentleness that Jesus promises to those who take that yoke upon themselves.
While the stole may be a symbol for ordained pastors, the yoke of Jesus Christ is a gift for all of us. My friends, yoke yourself to Jesus and learn from him, for it is truly a yoke of gentleness and humility and one that promises joy, peace and rest for all.
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About this website
Gustavus Adolphus Lutheran Church (GA) in New York City has been chosen as one of eight internship congregations to participate this year in a church-wide initiative designed to increase our understanding of Holy Scripture and most importantly, to cultivate our engagement with it. In partnership with The Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia, Vicar John Heidgerd will be working to develop innovative ways to deepen our faith formation and sense of discipleship for the sake of ourselves and our communities.