SERMON preached on Sunday, July 14, 1991
Saint Paul's Epistle to the Romans XV: l-7
How beautiful and seemingly simple are the last words of to-day's Epistle: 'Carry one another's burdens, and so you will fulfil the Law of Christ'. But how much they claim from us! Linking it with Christ means that we must be prepared to carry the burden of each person, of everyone, whether it is a friend or a foe, whether the burden seems to be great and honourable, or whether it is humiliating to us as it is defiling to the other person.
Christ became man and took upon Himself all the weight not only of our creaturely condition, but of the condition of the fallen world. He took upon Himself the weight, the crushing weight of the lives of everyone who came to Him; not only of the sick and the needy, not only of those who were clean and persecuted, but of those who were wallowing in filth, those who were evil, as it seemed to others, at the very core of their being. But through the darkness that blinded people He saw the light at the core, He saw that the divine image was imprinted at the very heart of every person, and it was to this image He addressed Himself; it was this life eternal that was dormant in each that He awoke through a touch, through a word, by His presence.
And so, when we hear the words of Paul that we should carry one another's burdens, it is against this background of Christ's readiness never to reject anyone, never to see in anyone a person for whom there was no hope left, that we must turn to our neighbour. When the burdens we have to carry are noble and tragic it seems to us easy to do so; it is easy to be full of compassion, of sympathy for the persecuted, to be full of sympathy and compassion for those who are in desperate material need, for those who are in agony of mind, who suffer in all possible ways. It is easy to have a moment of compassion for those who are sick in body; but how difficult it is to have a steady sense of compassion for those who are sick for a very long time and who claim our attention week after week, year after year, at times for decades. And even more so for people who are mentally disturbed and who need our attention still more, who need us to stand by them, carry them indeed on our shoulders; how many of us are capable of this?
But there is another way in which we have to carry one another's burdens; the examples which I gave were burdens that afflicted others and burdens we were only to share, and to share for moments. It is only for a few hours that we visit the sick; it is only for a short while that we carry the burdens of those who are in agony of mind and in distress, because having been with them, stood by them, expressed all the genuine concern which was ours, we will walk out and put down this burden while the other will continue to carry it.
How much more difficult it is when the burden is laid upon ourselves, and this burden is not one that ennobles us in our own eyes or in the eyes of others, but is simply pure ugly suffering and distress: the dislike of others for us, the hatred of others, slander and calomny, and the various many, many ways in which our neighbour can make our lives almost unbearable. How difficult it is then to think of them not just as the cause of all that destroys our lives, but as people who are blind, who are unaware of what they are doing. We pray in the litanies by saying that we ask God to be merciful to those who hate and wrong us, who devise and do evil against us!
How often it is that people devise nothing, mean nothing, but are totally thoughtless. At that moment how difficult it becomes to see this person as someone whom we must take upon ourselves, with all the consequences of it and bring this person before God; to bring before God ugliness, meanness, thoughtlessness, unintentional cruelty – bring it before God and say: 'Forgive, Lord! They do not know what they are doing'… These words that are so beautiful and so inspiring. Carry one another's burdens aid so you will have fulfilled the Law of Christ, claim from us a generosity, a steadiness and courage and a likeness to Christ which is far beyond what we are prepared to offer most of the time to most of the people, even to the people whom we love, whose burdens we are prepared to carry for a moment and then leave the burden on them.
Let us reflect on every person who is of our acquaintance, beginning with the closest ones, who have claims on us, or who burden us by their very existence, or the way they behave. And then, let us look farther afield (?) and learn to accept the burden and carry it as. Christ did – up to death upon the Cross. Amen.