During this holy season, exercise some self-discipline by cutting down on your consumption of necessaries and luxuries—that’s part of what “Take My yoke upon you” is all about.
But this dour principle of restraint goes straight out the window as an apostle’s day falls at the beginning of Lent and the Church correspondingly sets before us a veritable feast from the Word of God; you could not take too big or too rich a serving from the Bread of Life spread before you in this morning’s two readings.
Remarkably, and rightly, our saint of the day is eclipsed by Jesus and never gets out of His shadow. Luke tells us that Matthias had the qualifications for a vacant office, and was duly selected for it, and then instituted in it. But thereafter we don’t hear a peep from Matthias’ mouth or a single shred of information about anything he did on his own responsibility. Conversely, the whole passage including our Lord’s great invitation “Come unto Me” has burned itself into the lively memory of Christendom; it is a piece of “performative utterance” that keeps resounding in the present; it’s one of not a few texts that we might rightly call the Gospel in a nutshell.
Yes, Christ’s dramatic invitation recorded in Matthew and Luke takes absolute priority over the appointment of Matthias. It is fitting, though, for us to remember this somewhat obscure replacement twelfth apostle, because Luke’s brief narrative about him stands in the service of Jesus’ “Come unto Me.” For, in a very powerful and practical way, today’s first reading helps us connect with the second.
Replacing Judas with Matthias wasn’t Peter’s idea; it wasn’t a dark design like trying at Caesarea Philippi to keep Christ from going up to the Cross or a crackpot notion like asking our Lord in the upper room to give him a complete wash from head to toe. No, as he puts Peter’s words into Greek, Luke has him use the little Greek verb dei, which means that, by the unalterable, eternal will of God, it has to be that Judas get replaced by someone who had witnessed the whole ministry of Jesus from start to finish.
Yesterday we heard the ancient apostle John speak of what “we” have beheld with “our” eyes, heard with “our” ears, and touched with “our” hands, those momentous things that “we” now proclaim to “you”. There’s a time when later apostolic ministers can step comfortably into the apostles’ shoes, a time when we can smoothly include ourselves in the apostolic “we”; we do this in the matter of “proclaiming”.
And then again, there’s a time when this great “we” can be spoken only by the original Eleven plus Matthias. Matthias’ grand significance as the twelfth apostle consists in his still speaking aloud with John those wondrous words about what “we” have beheld with “our” eyes, heard with “our” ears, and touched with “our” hands. Matthias is a crucial earthly guarantor of the truth of the Christian religion.
The weekly pericope seminar that we may be on the verge of introducing in the footsteps of Westfield House and our Edmonton sister seminary will be superabundantly worthwhile if it gives each generation of students the opportunity to sink their teeth very deeply into the substance of today’s Gospel.
The man Jesus speaks to the Father as no other descendant of Adam may or can. From a human soul encased in flesh and blood, He rejoices in the relationship He has enjoyed with the Father from all eternity; so the witness John did not invent the notion of an “eternal life that was with the Father and that was manifested to us.”
And why would the Father’s unique Son bring this relationship, this eternal life, into flesh and blood if He did not intend to share it with Adam’s blighted offspring?
Hence the invitation, “Come unto Me, all ye that toil and are heavy laden, and I will refresh you.” Despite all our labour-saving gadgets and technological advances, the world is full of folk who toil, who toil for a living, who toil to keep their heads above water, who toil to make their lives acceptable in the eyes of God. And the world is full of folk who are heavy laden, with anxiety, with guilt, with sorrow, with despair.
Both the Book of Concord and the Anglican Book of Common Prayer see “Come unto Me” as a Communion invitation. Is all the toil overtaking you? Are you collapsing under the heavy burden? If so, come receive Jesus’ true body given and true blood shed, and He will refresh you.
Why was this, of all the possible Gospel passages, chosen for an apostle’s day? We don’t need to search far to find the reason, do we? Apostolic ministers, starting with the Twelve, and going through Paul and Barnabas and Timothy and Titus and including even us humble Lutheran pastors are to proclaim the eternal life that was with the Father and that was seen, heard, and touched by the Twelve; we are to issue the invitation and to deliver the refreshing gifts. That little word dei, that divine must is still in force; Judas had to be replaced, and we have to keep on forming apostolic ministers, because from the right hand of the Father Jesus still makes His appeal, “Come unto Me, all ye that toil and are heavy laden, and I will refresh you.”