De-cluttering for new life
I have never liked clutter. Whenever my mother wanted a desk cleaned out, a closet cleaned, or some cabinets reorganized, I was the one to call. She would tease me and say that I had no sentimentality when it came to getting rid of "stuff" because I would easily put things in the 'to be donated' box or the trash without blinking twice. Actually she was pretty much correct in her assessment of my 'talent' for letting go of things which were no longer needed or that were simply clutter. Even now I have this habit of going through my desk drawers and file cabinets about every 6 months to throw out papers which have no value or use. When I get in one of those moods, look out; nothing is ‘safe’ in the area upon which I have set my sight! But afterward it is as if my house is sighing with relief because there is that much less junk inside weighing it down.
All of the readings of the Sunday liturgy in this fifth week of Lent were about opening the windows of our hearts so that we can let in new life. The first reading from Ezekiel was the promise from God that He would ‘open their graves and have them rise from them’ (Ezek. 37) referring to the restoration of the land of Israel to His people who had been in bitter exile. His promise was to put a new spirit within them so that they would have a breath of new life within their hearts and within their community. After all they had done to embrace the death of sin God was still offering mercy by forgiving them and restoring them to new life. In the second reading we heard St. Paul remind us that we are in the spirit if we belong to Christ. He said that the One who raised Christ from the dead will also give us the new life of resurrection, echoing the words of Jesus in the gospel: "I am the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in me will never die."
The culminating story of our Lenten journey so far is the gospel story of the raising of Lazarus from the dead. (John 11) It is the high point of all the miracles performed by Jesus in the gospels. For John this is the event that explains who Jesus truly is and the nature of why He had come into the world: He came so that we might live. Jesus came to offer us a way out of the darkness of death into the new life of being a true child of God. Therefore during Lent we are reminded of this so that we can continue to shake the dust out and remove the clutter from our hearts, a process we began anew at the start of Lent. We are moving toward Holy Week with the joyful hope of the resurrection to come.
Unlike Jesus' disciples, we do know that the resurrection will come, but that does not mean we need this journey from death to new life any less than they did. That which is dead within us needs to be restored to life. The messiness of daily living has accumulated within our hearts once again, so we go through this process every year with the knowledge that this really is not about a simple airing out, but it is about the new life that we are being continually offered by God, especially when we come to the end of our lives, in anticipation of Jesus’ second coming. It is about growing in holiness so that we are ready when that day comes.
In the gospel story we see that Jesus delayed in going to his friend Lazarus on purpose. He explained to His disciples that He chose to do that so that He could glorify the Father. Usually what strikes me is that the delay is about letting Lazarus lie in the tomb so that there is no doubt that the man was truly dead, thus showing that Jesus truly raised him, showing the power of God in Jesus. But this year what struck me was that Jesus did this for the Father more so than for Himself or even for Lazarus! It was directed at giving the glory to His Father, the One who was well pleased with Jesus, 9as we hear in the other gospels) on the day of His baptism. The connection with baptism here is obvious because of the path from death to life that happens with immersion into the water and rising up from it. But I also see the connection with Jesus wanting it to be about the Father and not about Himself. Jesus surely could have had all the glory He wanted, but instead He does all He can to glorify the Father, as if He is culminating His work so that we can see just what God will do for us through baptism.
In two weeks the catechumens coming into the Body of Christ will receive baptism. They will move from death to new life. I think that is why the final week before Holy Week is when we hear this gospel. It is all about baptism and the cleansing of the filth of sin, the clutter in our hearts and souls, and the rising to new life in order to glorify God. It glorifies Him when we are made more whole, when we are sanctified, and especially because we become His in a new way. He is at the baptismal pool in every Church and as each one is coming out of the water, it is as if He is saying: "He/She is mine!" For those of us who are already baptized and are renewing our promises He is saying: "You are truly mine and I have fully empowered you for the life to which I have called you!" He wants us to come home to Him when the time comes, so He is giving us all He can so that like the people of ancient Israel in the reading from Ezekiel, we will be home with Him as His people in Heaven forever.
The story of the raising of Lazarus is filled with much we can learn from. There are the statements of Lazarus' two sisters who say that they know Jesus has the power to raise Lazarus on the last day, displaying their deep faith in Jesus. We see Jesus weep over the death of His beloved friend, which indicates that He suffers when we suffer. We see the amazement of the crowds when Jesus cries out, full-voiced: "Lazarus come out!" But we must not forget what He said just prior to that cry: "Father, I thank you for hearing me. I know that you always hear me; but because of the crowd here I have said this, that they may believe that you sent me." Jesus is glorifying God and He is offering new life to the entire crowd, not only to Lazarus. As I said earlier, he delayed in His arrival for a reason. It seems to me that Jesus wanted to attract a crowd so that He could offer new life to all of them, and hence to all of us, for the sake of His Father.
Let us accept the offer of new life that Jesus is making to all of us once again. It is not too late to enter into the cave in order to sweep out the dust, the clutter, the unnecessary, and that which weighs us down. We need to enter in if we want to come out healed. If we want new life, we have to acknowledge that sin mires us in death and then allow Him to heal it. Each time we walk the journey of Lent with Him we come out with a little more wholeness. It means we need to respond when He calls us out of the dark cave. Some people may prefer the dark, because they are afraid to do the work or are afraid the light will reveal too much. When Lazarus came out of the tomb, the light revealed that while he had new life, he still needed help getting unbound from the burial clothes. So too, will we need continued help along the journey. Baptism does not end the process of us falling into sin, but it does empower us with the tools to combat sin's lure. That is why we need to clean out the clutter over and over. Like Lazarus we see that in this life it is a process and it is not over until we are perfected by God in Heaven. Let us respond to His call to come out, knowing that He will continually help us to grow in holiness, offering us mercy, forgiveness, and new life until the day comes when we are with Him forever.
May we persevere through this last part of Lent, trusting in the promise of new life! May we be courageous enough to enter into the cave in order to see what needs to be cleansed and removed! May we respond to Jesus' call to come out so we can enter into the light of His love more directly! And may we accept the gift of new life He offers so that we, too, may glorify the Father by our lives! Let us continue to meet in the Heart of the Lord who is the Resurrection and the Life! Peace!
©Michele L. Catanese
The photo is one of mine taken in New Mexico. The painting is The Raising of Lazarus by Giotto and can be found at http://www.zeno.org/Kunstwerke/B/Giotto+di+Bondone%3A+Kirche+San+Francesco+in+Assisi%3A+Die+Auferweckung+des+Lazarus
The icon is called Christ Immanuel Flowering Cross by Fr. William Hart McNichols. It can be found at http://www.fatherbill.org/all-categories/product/35-christ-emmanuel-flowering-cross. I chose it because the flowering reminded me of the new life of resurrection offered by Jesus. It is new life coming from death which is what He offers us all.
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Heart Speaks to Heart