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St George’s News - Waterlooville’s Parish Magazine

The Website for St George’s Church, Waterlooville and its Parish Magazine St George’s News

Summer 2020 issue

From the Vicar, Fr Dr Colin Lawlor

Homily delivered on Sunday 5 July ...

When I was Chaplain at the University of Brighton the Chaplaincy ran a Community Choir. This choir was open to everyone, staff and students, whether they had great musical ability (and some did) or whether they were tone deaf (and believe me, some were). The important thing was that it drew people together (sometimes people who were very isolated or vulnerable) and it drew them together into a community with a common interest, a love of music and of singing.

There is a song which was very popular with our choir and which I haven’t been able to get out of my head this past week. It’s an old Spiritual, songs that tradition has it were originally sung by African slaves in the United States, and so it probably wouldn’t be considered politically correct for us to sing today, which is a pity for reasons that I will shortly reflect on.

But why, you might think am I talking about singing anyway when it is the one thing that we cannot currently do in church? Am I trying to wind you up?

Well, no.

But the song is often known by the title Gonna lay Down my Burden and given that I have been reflecting upon our Gospel Reading during the week, and thinking about what I might say today it is perhaps not surprising that it has been on my mind during the course of this week.

This song, like so many of those ‘spirituals’ is important. They are important because they are testament to the terrible conditions and the inhumanity of slavery, not just of the past and the involvement of our forebears in slavery, but also because slavery is not simply a thing of the past but is very much a present reality, even in our own nation. These songs are important because they hopefully keep us mindful of this and alert to it.

They are also important because they invariably speak of a depth of faith that should be an inspiration and example to us all. That even in the depths of despair the people who composed and sang these songs held fast to their faith in a God to whom they could lay down their burdens, sure of his loving mercy, sure of his care and love for them, and in hope for a better future when they would be liberated from their burden.

‘Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest’ Says Jesus. Matthew 11 v 25.

For many of us this period of lockdown has imposed a heavy burden indeed.

I know that some have found the lockdown to be a time of liberation – a time when they have had more space for leisure, for their families. But for most I think this time has been a burden that has been hard to bear.

Those who are vulnerable and shielding. Who have literarily been in lockdown, unable to go out and see family and friends.

Those in nursing homes, frightened, perhaps lonely and confused.

Those who are frightened of catching the virus, those who are frightened of losing their livelihood.

Those who have been bereaved and have not been able to find the comfort of spending time with family, or just the healing touch of a hug — and believe me I know how that feels.

The young, particularly those living in high rise flats, who for so long were unable to go out to see friends, or go to school and get back to familiar regimes.

For Key workers who have given so much, even their lives to support others through the Pandemic in so many ways.

For many here today, and many more watching from at home who continue to be shielding, this time has been a huge burden. It has brought out the best of people, with generous acts of love generosity and compassion. It has also brought out the worst in people with unkind words and actions.

‘Come to me, all you that are weary and carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest’ says the Lord.

What burdens you?

What I have found a particular burden is not being able to come together as a Christian Community to worship that God to whom we are called to bring our burdens and lay them down. Live streaming has kept us together as a virtual community, and I am glad that we are able to continue to live stream to those who are unable to be with us today. But a virtual community is not the same as a literal community.

Our faith calls us to build community, to come together as a community to worship this God of ours and to share in and receive the sacraments which are, to coin a phrase used by St Augustine: ‘an outward and visible sign of an inward and invisible grace’. It is good that some of you have been able to join us here today, we pray for and look forward to a time when our whole community, our church family can join us physically rather than virtually.

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

What is your burden?

The context of our gospel reading today is Jesus attacking the religious leaders of his day for interpreting the Jewish Law, the Torah, in such a way as to impose a burden on the people that is too hard to bear. Elsewhere in the Gospel tradition Jesus is heard to say of them:

‘They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on the shoulders of others; but they themselves are unwilling to lift a finger.’

For Jesus the cardinal rule for interpreting the law is that made clear in the words of the Old Testament Prophet Hosea (6:6), which Jesus himself quotes more than once:

‘For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt-offerings’.

Jesus tells us in our gospel reading today (Matthew 11:16-19.25-end) that the good news is that Jesus has communicated this message, the message of steadfast love, not to the learned but to infants or, as some traditions have it, to ‘mere children’. In other words this knowledge is not something that is gained by learning or study but is something directly revealed by God’s grace to those who are most likely to receive it, and those people are ‘mere children’.

This is not Jesus treating us as though we are nothing more that infants who are unlearned and weak, who are voiceless and having nothing to speak to the adult world. When Jesus is speaking of ‘knowing’ he is using that word in the Semitic sense which means beyond intellectual knowledge, it has a deeper resonance of real experience.  

To know someone is not simply about knowing a great deal about them – the word ‘know’ in the way in which Christ is speaking implies a communion of love which is about a deep intimacy. And so Jesus blesses the Father for giving this knowledge to his disciples, and by implication to us.

When we come together as a community to worship God, to share in and receive communion, we experience God himself, God who is also a community of three persons in one God.

And we come before him laying aside our burdens, whatever they may be, whether physically here or watching from afar, with faith in Jesus’ words to us:

‘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. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.’