I have found several versions of the song. The one we're most familiar with is from the Hollies, in 1969. Neil Diamond did it in 1970. Cher did it in 1971. Bill Medley did it in 1988. Rufus Wainwright did it for Zoolander. Bob Russel and Bobby Scott wrote the song while Bob Russel was battling, and losing to, cancer of the lymph nodes.
I've even found a couple possible origins for the title. One from a publication by Ralph Waldo Tine in 1918 where he's talking about a young Scottish girl who is carrying, best she could, a younger boy. When asked about it, she said, "He's na heavy. He's mi brither." Boys Town even had a version that they borrowed from the Louis Allis Messenger in 1941. It was a caption that said, "He ain't heavy, Mister. He's m' brother!"
I don't know why, but as I was reading the Life Journal texts for this morning, this song kept coming to mind. Honestly, I haven't heard it in forever, but it just would not go away. Maybe it was because the readings this morning are all from Matthew, and most of them talk of healings at the hands of Jesus: a leper, a centurion's servant, Peter's mother in law, a couple demon possessed men, a paralytic, a dead girl, and a man blind and mute. Then...he sends out the Twelve, and gives them power to do the same.
I immediately began to think of the men and women that I've been sent out with, harvesters in the Master's field, and this question hit me, "Who pastors the pastors?" It wasn't a selfish thought, it was just one that came to me as I thought about some of the things my colleagues are struggling with right now. Who do we go to when our worlds are crumbling?
"He ain't heavy. He's my brother." Maybe that's why the song wouldn't go away. Maybe we as clergy, have not only a responsibility to reach out to the unchurched and shepherd our flocks, but to carry each other when the need arises.
I have been blessed to experience this first hand. In the last few years, my family has become very familiar with hospital waiting rooms. When my dad had open heart surgery, the family was waiting for word from the doctor, and while we waited at least 6 of my colleagues came by to check on us. When mom and dad were in a car wreck, at least 3 of my colleagues waited with me in the emergency room. I didn't have to call them, somehow they just knew. When my daughter, and later, my wife, were admitted to the hospital, yep, colleagues came by to sit with us.
"He ain't heavy. He's my brother. She ain't heavy. She's my sister." Clergy, do you know your colleagues well enough to know when they need someone? Do you trust them enough to let them know when you need someone? Do you know if their families are healthy? Do you know what they are struggling with? How are things in their pastorates? When was the last time you met a colleague for lunch or coffee, or just spent some time together on the front porch? Have you called a co-harvester lately just to see how they are doing? Are you willing to carry your brothers and sisters? Just something to think about as we prepare to enter our busiest, and most stressful, time of the year.