“Why must the gate be narrow?” asks poet Wendell Berry in “The Narrow Gate.” He answers himself, “Because you cannot pass beyond it burdened.”
Rev. Dr. Charles Albert Tindley was an African-American Methodist minister. Born of a free mother and an enslaved father, he was considered free but was raised among slaves. He was self-educated, learning Hebrew with the assistance of a Philadelphia synagogue and Greek by a correspondence course. In addition to his vocation as a minister, Tindley was a civic leader. In 1915, he and others led a protest march against the Philadelphia theater that was showing D. W. Griffith’s racist film “The Birth of a Nation.” They were attacked by counter-protesters with clubs, sticks, and bottles. Tindley was also a noted songwriter and is considered one of the founding fathers of American gospel music. One of his songs is still in Methodist hymnals and has been recorded by gospel, blues, and country artists: “If you trust and never doubt, He will surely bring you out. Take your burden to the Lord, and leave it there.” Dr. Tindley knew something about burdens.
When Jesus instructed his followers to take the narrow gate, he was not being punitive. He was being descriptive. “The gate is narrow and the road is hard [but it] leads to life.” The verses of Tindley’s song describe conditions of poverty, oppression, sickness, age, and pain, but he testifies from his own experience that God can help: “Take your burden to the Lord and leave it there.”
What burdens wear you down and tempt you to despair?
Precious Lord, take our hands, lift us up, help us stand. Teach us to lay down our burdens at the foot of your cross. Fill us with love for our neighbors and courage for the future, even the hard road ahead. Amen.