Dear Family and friends of Bernice,
We all carry burdens. We are all under a yoke. We all have someone we are concerned about, whether it’s a child who is struggling in school or an aging parent who is struggling to remember things and function on their own. We all have responsibilities in life that wear us out. We have to go to work. We have to get all the chores done at home, the dishes, the lawn, the laundry, the meals. We have to make sure the children get their homework finished and run them to all their activities and lessons. Life can be exhausting.
But the greatest burden we bear, whether we want to admit it or not, is the guilt of sin. We try our best to do all the things we are supposed to do, but our conscience keeps telling us that our best is not good enough. No matter how hard we try, someone complains. No matter how hard we try, even if no one complains, even if they thank us and compliment us, our conscience lets us know that what we do is not perfect. It doesn’t measure up to God’s standard of perfect love for him and perfect love for our neighbor. We can try ignoring it, medicating it, drowning it, working it away, but none of those things actually remove the burden of guilt we all have. There is only one solution. Jesus. Only Jesus can give us rest.
The way that Jesus gives us rest is to lift the burden of sin off of us and carry it for us. He carried the burden of the guilt of our sin all the way to the cross. There, at the cross, he took the punishment we deserve for our sins. Since he was carrying our sins, the sins of the whole world, he became the target for God’s wrath. The lightning bolt of God’s justice struck him and he absorbed it for us. There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. If we begin to feel burdened by the guilt of our sin all we have to do is look at Jesus on the cross and remember that he is bearing the punishment we deserve. And when we remember that, we have rest, rest for our souls.
By God’s grace, Bernice knew that Jesus came to give her rest for her soul. She was baptized, and by remembering her baptism, she was reminded that Jesus had called her by her name, claimed her as his own dear child, washed her sins away and covered her with the robe of his righteousness. She confessed her faith in Jesus at her confirmation. She heard the absolution regularly as she attended worship. She received the personal assurance that Jesus had removed the burden of the guilt of her sin as she received the Lord’s supper often. What wonderful rest Jesus gives us through the gospel in word and sacrament! What a blessing to know that Bernice was happy to receive that rest often!
We all carry burdens. We are all under a yoke. Until the invention of the car and the tractor everyone understood the picture of a yoke. Maybe we think of the phrase “yoke of oxen” and a picture we have seen, maybe in an old book somewhere, of two oxen joined together by a piece of wood pulling a plow or a covered wagon.
All of us are under a yoke. We are either yoked together with sin and Satan, or with Jesus. There are not other possibilities. The Bible makes it clear that, by birth, as descendants of sinful Adam and Eve, we enter this world yoked together with sin and Satan. By nature we think that we have to pull all the weight; that we have to work hard to make up for our sins and satisfy God’s demand that we be perfect. Jesus warned about this kind of thinking when he said, you experts in the law, woe to you, because you load people down with burdens they can hardly carry, and you yourselves will not lift one finger to help them. And Peter told those who were trying to put the Gentiles under the yoke of the law, why do you try to test God by putting on the necks of Gentiles a yoke that neither we nor our ancestors have been able to bear? No! We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are.
Jesus says, my yoke is easy and my burden is light. When we are yoked together with Jesus through faith we realize that he has done all the work. He has kept every one of God’s laws for us, perfectly. As we heard on Good Friday, Jesus cried out it is finished. There is nothing left for us to do. He has done it all for us. There is nothing left for us to suffer, he has suffered it all for us. Forgiveness, life and salvation are ours, by grace; a gift from God in Christ. Yoked together with Jesus through faith we walk with him at our side every day, even through the valley of the shadow of death, as he guides us safely into the green pastures of his perfect heavenly kingdom.
Jesus says, come to me for rest. No one else can give you rest for your soul. No one else can give you rest from the fear of death. No one else can give you rest in the midst of mourning through his promise that all who trust in him HAVE eternal life. He is the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in him will live, even though they die. Because he lives, we too shall live.
Someone might say, “Bernice prayed and prayed that Jesus would take her home to heaven and give her rest from her physical and mental troubles. Why did he wait so long to answer her prayer?”
God’s answer to that questions is, because he knew what was best for her soul. Our thoughts are not his thoughts nor are our ways his ways. His thoughts are as much higher than ours as the heaven is above the earth. He has never promised that we won’t have trouble in this world. In fact, he has promised that we will have trouble. The world is a sinful place. It is cursed because of sin. Even though we have forgiveness in Jesus we still suffer the consequences of sin, our sin and the sins of others. Even though we have forgiveness in Jesus we still age, we are still subject to sickness and disease, we must still face death. Our times are in his hands. When the why questions come to our minds the only answer he gives us is “trust me. I know what is best for each and every soul and I will always do what is best for those who trust in me.”
We all have burdens. We are all under a yoke. Jesus invites us to come to him to have our greatest burdens removed. He invites us to come to him and receive the best rest of all, rest for our souls. He has taken the burden of God’s demand for perfection and the burden of the punishment we deserve on himself. He has removed the burden of the fear of death by his resurrection from the dead. He has given Bernice rest from her earthly troubles and taken her from this world of sorrow to himself in heaven. He invites all of you who are burdened with feelings of loss and sorrow to come to him for rest. Receive the rest that he gives in his promise that all the dead will be raised. Receive the rest that he gives in his promise that all who die in the Lord are blessed. Be at rest as you look forward in faith to what John describes for you, a new heaven and a new earth … the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband… God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.