At the time, Jesus said, “All things have been delivered to Me by My Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and any one to whom the Son chooses to reveal Him. Come to Me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my Yoke upon you, and learn from Me; for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”
Matthew 11: 27-30
For You are the hope of the hopeless, and the rest of those who labor and are heavy laden with iniquity; and to You we ascribe glory, together with Your Father, who is from everlasting, and Your all-holy and life-giving Spirit, now and ever, and to the ages of ages. Amen. (From the 5th Prayer)
There is a saying that “every saint has a past and every sinner has a future.” The end of the Fifth Prayer of Holy Unction tells us that there is no one without hope. God is the hope of the hopeless. There is no person that is unredeemable. There is no person who doesn’t have value. Because with God all things are possible. God can redeem even the most sinful of people. God can help turn around the life of the one who has failed the most. God can bring hope to a failing marriage. God can turn around a life that isn’t going well. That doesn’t mean that God works magic. That doesn’t mean that we just throw up a prayer and sit and wait for God to “do His thing.” It means that when we bring God into our lives, and we invite Him into our problems, then all of a sudden there is hope for a situation that seems hopeless.
Let’s look at the thief on the cross on Good Friday. That situation appeared hopeless. A man condemned to death hung on the cross next to Christ. He didn’t have any evidence going for him that could save him from condemnation. We don’t know if he had any family. We know that there was another thief hanging on the other side of Jesus who was criticizing him for not demanding that Jesus save them both. He was about to die disgraced, alone, and afraid. He looked to Jesus, and said “Remember me in Your Kingdom.” (Luke 23:42) And Jesus replied to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise.” (23:43) Jesus didn’t save that man from dying. We know that shortly afterward, Jesus died and the soldiers came and broke the legs of the two thieves so that they were no longer able to hold themselves up and breathe. The repentant thief died. However, he died with hope. He passed away from his earthly life with the hope of eternal life.
Jesus tells us in Matthew 11: 27-30 to yoke ourselves to Him. In this instance, the word “yoke” can be interpreted in two ways. The first way is as the yoke that comes over two animals so that they are forced to go in the same direction. Coming under the yoke of God is not a heavy burden, like the yoke placed on an animal. On the farm, the yoke prevents the animal from going where it wishes, it takes away the freedom of the animal. The yoke of Christ does not take away our freedom. It makes sure that we are going in the right direction, towards heaven and the ultimate freedom. The second interpretation of the word yoke is that it defines the relationships with the one with whom we are walking. For example, in marriage, two people are yoked together, meaning that they walk together through life. In Christianity, the Christian is yoked with Christ, and is supposed to walk in the same direction as Christ.
For the one who is “heavy laden with iniquity”, the yoke of Christ provides us an opportunity to start over again. At any point, we can yoke ourselves to Christ and start walking in the right direction. In the sacrament of confession, we can commit to the yoke and wipe out all record of past bad directions we’ve gone. In Holy Unction, we find healing from the wounds inflicted on us when we have yoked ourselves to sin instead of to Christ. And in Holy Communion, we find strength to keep walking yoked to Christ. These three sacraments, which we are supposed to do as a regular part of our spiritual life, help take away the burden of sin, offer direction and provide hope for even the most hopeless of people.
The Prodigal Son seemed pretty hopeless. He had taken half of his inheritance early from his father, wasted it in a faraway land, and found himself with nothing—no friends, no place to live, and no food. That was pretty hopeless. He came back to his father, seeking to become one of his father’s servants. And his father not only forgave him but celebrated his return with a feast. This is how God the Father waits for us. Even when we feel defeated and empty like the Prodigal Son, there is always a way back, and a Father Who is eager to welcome us home. This is spiritual hope for anyone who feels spiritually hopeless.
All-Holy Theotokos, Ever-Virgin, steadfast refuge and fortress, haven and wall, ladder and bastion, have mercy and compassion on the sick; for in you alone we have sought refuge. (4th Ode)
No one is hopeless in the eyes of the Lord. Yoke your life to Christ today. Walk with Him. Walk in a Godly direction. If there can be hope for a dying thief and a prodigal son, there can be hope for any of us.