Back in the day, along with a group of friends, I used to camp and backpack in the wilderness of Virginia and West Virginia. Generally, it was just for a long weekend – maybe two or three days. We would carry everything in/out. I remember having fun, enjoying it all, but I always felt like I needed a day to recover. Perhaps it was the infrequency of carrying a load, the hiking, and all that goes with the adventure, but come Monday, there was always a stiffness about my neck, arms, shoulders, upper back and all the rest that is connected to those parts. I could still feel the after effects of the pack’s burden. “Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest.” It sounded like the perfect scripture for the post-camping Monday mornings.
Eventually our camping crew headed to the Rockies for the “real camping.” Our first adventure was in the mountains north of Steamboat Springs. We hired a local guide, Kevin. I remember being at the trailhead, backpack up and ready to go, and Kevin looking at me and the way I was wearing the pack. He pointedly said, “Are you serious….? Take that pack off.” You know all those straps and buckles – they have a purpose. Kevin began to teach me about the way to adjust the pack, to make the load – not any less heavy – but less burdensome. “Try this for a few miles.” A few miles later we stopped. I would assess things, make choices, make some adjustments, and carry on. All along the way, there was a tweak here and there, and at the end of the day-long trek I was relatively relaxed and appropriately tired, but not where near as worn out as other trips.
The seasons came and went and our camping trips got longer; two days became five became a week, became two weeks. We hiked the Colorado 10th Mt Division Trail (summer and winter), the Wyoming Wind River Range, and cross-country skied across Yellowstone in Winter. Sometimes we also packed in rock-climbing gear. They were amazing trips in the wide-open spaces of God’s country; yoked to 75+ pound packs, and yet unburdened and free – with an open trail before us for the journey.
Especially on the Yellowstone trip, when I think back on that adventure, it was a lesson for life. On that trip, we had extra gear and rations, sleds that needed to be pulled, in addition to our packs. 10 days of dead-of-winter camping requires preparation and contingency. The sleds allowed us to take along the supplies needed for the extended time and the winter conditions. Still, we had to trek with all of this through fields of snow. But we were “yoked” together by choice and necessity. There was always someone whose role was to lead and plough through the fresh snow on their cross-country skis. Then two people followed to widen the trail. Then came teams of two folks, yoked together, pulling the sleds. As loaded down as we were, we were still burdened and free. It was an amazing feeling.
“Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest” used to sound like the perfect scripture for the post-camping Monday mornings. Now I understood that it was Scripture for the journey itself. The lessons learned were knowing you was your teacher and knowing to whom you were yoked. I was so fortunate to have Kevin as our guide and a great group of friends for the journey.
Maybe the bigger lesson is that no matter what you do in life, there will be some part of you that is joined, is yoked, to commitments, choices, and decisions. You learn from others, you adjust, you move on to journey’s end. But there is always the one teacher to whom you go.
Think of the range of those commitments: family, marriage, business, school, friendships – there is so little that we truly do alone. And for each and all of these endeavors, who is the teacher? To whom have you yoked yourself? Take my yoke upon you and learn from me
Some 1500 years ago, St. John Chrysostom, writing to a young man on the eve of his wedding, told him to take Christ as their teacher. He urged them to always have Christ in the midst of his marriage that together his bride and he might learn from the life of Christ, especially what it means to seek the good of the other – at whatever the cost. He urged them to take as the teacher the One who lived and died for love, in freedom, and in his unquenchable desire for our good. I was struck my that phrase, “unquenchable desire.”
Chrysostom’s message remains true all these years later. Certainly, for married couples and they set out on their common life, making choices, adjusting to life together, and making more adjustments for life with the children. The journey is never exactly what they had planned, but together it works and so they carry on. We pray that they have Christ in the midst of their marriage as their teacher and guide, living the lesson of seeking good for the other. Marriage is just one our many relationships. The lesson is true for all the other relationships in our lives. No matter what we do in life, there will be some part of us that is joined, is yoked, to commitments, choices, and decisions. Our role is to seek the good for the other.
Take my yoke upon you and learn from me – we need a teacher for those moments. One whose promise is true: “Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest.” The backpack of our life’s journey may in fact get heavier, but still have the possibility of being less burdensome. That comes in the way we love and desire the good of the other. The adjustments we make. The path we walk. And choices we make on the journey.
We are here today because we have chosen Jesus. In this celebration, we will profess our faith, recommitting ourselves to follow Christ and learn from Him. We will come forward to receive the ultimate good of the Eucharist that we might have the grace to ever choose to love and we choose the good for the other. We yoke ourselves to this faith …. And we make adjustments – better adjustments, choices, and become more and more unburdened.
Take my yoke upon you and learn from me… says the Lord. Amen.