A yoke holds animals together to do useful work. Getting yoked to studies and ministries at divinity school is like that – good work for a good purpose.
“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. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” ~ Matthew 11:29-30
A week has passed, my classes at Yale Divinity School have started, and I can begin to feel that a certain weight has been lifted, as well as a weight that has been added. The intense pressure to get here – two years of study at Hartford Seminary, clinical pastoral education, a year of working at a church – these were not necessarily all “hoops to jump through,” but they were challenges that had a certain height and uncertainty about them. The newness of these tasks is behind me, and now a new newness begins.
My global perspective on faith forged at HartSem and in mission work now gets a new richness within a broad and actively practicing group of leaders and followers in Christ. The weight of their experience and experiences, and the depth of their faith expressed deeply and passionately from so many perspectives, forms a passing into a new communal existence that I will never be able to “un-commune.” Just by being among them, I am not who I was before. I am now yoked, tied to both a task and to those performing it with me.
Being yoked is about being as well as doing
But this path for the yoked is not about accomplishments for their own sake. Ultimately, it’s about being who God has meant us to be as people who can grow through faith. As Ephesians 2:8-10 points out: “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God— not the result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are what God has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.” The grace of God creates the masterpiece of life that is offered a chance to grow even more Godly through grace.
The opportunity to grow as a path of grace was clear to me as I began my supervised ministry studies. For the first time I am in a large group of people seeking ordination, many in church denominations different from my own, but all with a single purpose. Each of us has a purpose in a congregation that we are going to serve – we are “yoked” to them in the way that an animal is yoked to a cart or a farm tool for useful work. At Friday’s chapel service, supervised ministry students were ceremonially yoked to Christian service, along with faculty and administrators of the school. Our being who we are in covenant with God and one another has begun.
Yoked rookies joining veterans
It reminds me a bit of when a rookie comes up from the minor leagues of baseball and slips on a major league uniform. My stay in this league is going to be short no matter what, given the retirement requirements of The United Methodist Church. Still, once you have taken on that service, you will be different. The uniform does not imply equivalency with the many great figures who have worn it before you, or the equivalency of your ministry to others with whom you serve, but it is a uniform that fits, nevertheless.
This point became very clear to me as I prayed in the Nouwen Chapel, a tiny but beautiful chamber beneath the school’s main chapel. A triptych painting above the chapel’s altar shows Christ surrounded by famous people who have followed in Christ’s ways – both world leaders and the most humble of followers who became world famous through their devotions. I may wear the same uniform of “faith leader” that these people did, but, like most people, I can hope to achieve only a tiny fraction of what they brought to the world.
The community of the “harder easy”
It is this community, along with the community of people who have become Christian leaders for two thousand years, and all who inspired them, who give me hope for the path ahead. None of the people in that triptych painting had an easy road. No Christian who chooses to follow Christ as Christ advises us will have an easy road. Our flaws will stand out like a stain on a white tablecloth, our good deeds will go unsung often. Yet in Matthew’s gospel Jesus promises us that his yoke is easy, and that his burden is light. Yes, a Christian life is an easy life, if we are dedicated to its radically different ways of Godly love. But that dedication yokes us to a “harder easy,” as I have heard United Methodists put it.
The path of the “harder easy” is straight, but steep. Clear, but narrow. Lighter, but requiring us to revoke the burdens of the world’s darkness – and our own. Comforting, but not often filled with what the world considers to be comfortable. The woodwork in the library at my school is impressive, the chairs are soft, the books filled with important and inspiring insights, but make no mistake about it – this is just a place of brief visitation for the yoked. This game, like all games, was not meant to be played in the clubhouse. Time to polish our swings, nail down our throws, catch what we can – and then, play ball.
How good to be in the league of the yoked, seeking the harder easy path.