Saturday, April 22, 2017

What healing looks like: the heart of suffering

Reading 7  EZEKIEL 36:16-17A, 18-28
The word of the LORD came to me, saying:
Son of man, when the house of Israel lived in their land,
they defiled it by their conduct and deeds.

Therefore I poured out my fury upon them
because of the blood that they poured out on the ground,
and because they defiled it with idols.
I scattered them among the nations,
dispersing them over foreign lands;
according to their conduct and deeds I judged them.

But when they came among the nations wherever they came,
they served to profane my holy name,
because it was said of them: "These are the people of the LORD,
yet they had to leave their land."
So I have relented because of my holy name
which the house of Israel profaned
among the nations where they came.

Therefore say to the house of Israel: Thus says the Lord GOD:
Not for your sakes do I act, house of Israel,
but for the sake of my holy name,
which you profaned among the nations to which you came.
I will prove the holiness of my great name, profaned among the nations,
in whose midst you have profaned it.
Thus the nations shall know that I am the LORD, says the Lord GOD,
when in their sight I prove my holiness through you.

For I will take you away from among the nations,
gather you from all the foreign lands,
and bring you back to your own land.

I will sprinkle clean water upon you
to cleanse you from all your impurities,
and from all your idols I will cleanse you.
I will give you a new heart and place a new spirit within you,
taking from your bodies your stony hearts
and giving you natural hearts.
I will put my spirit within you and make you live by my statutes,
careful to observe my decrees.
You shall live in the land I gave your fathers;
you shall be my people, and I will be your God.

It is amazing sometimes how God brings our lives full-circle. (And maybe it shouldn’t be amazing – because I think that is his intention with many things – but still, whenever I am given the eyes to see it, I am amazed.)

On my drive back from Thanksgiving in Iowa, I had a pretty interesting encounter with God. Since Dan died, I’ve had some questions for God about suffering. If you’ve followed me for awhile, you know how resistant I have been to suffering. Prior to Dan’s diagnosis, I equated suffering with falling out of God’s favor; during the year of cancer, I *kind of* learned to embrace it, but still with an idea that to avoid it or to be released from “the worst” was better than to endure “the full extent” – or to realize the “worst.” …and then, what I would say was the worst outcome possible happened – and when that happens, you start to look at suffering with new eyes.

While listening to ‘Rose of Bethlehem’ by Selah, meditating on the life of Mary and Jesus, I was brought to ears and clearly realized that our suffering is intended to bring about healing.

O Rose of Bethlehem, how lovely pure and sweet, born to glorify the Father, born to wear the thorns for me.

As I meditated on this song, this image of a heart crowned in thorns came to me. Our suffering purifies our heart; purifies our faith which is stronger than gold. But, we cannot wear the thorns of suffering without a heart of flesh.

Mary's "yes" to receive the Holy Spirit and become the mother of Jesus was a "yes" to a life of suffering. Jesus' "yes" to submitting to the flesh of humanity, a rejection of the majesty due him, - but then, the final submission to suffering, the "yes" to wearing the thorn of crowns, drinking the cup of suffering and death through the crucifixion: Experiencing the suffering of life is an invitation to receive the heart of flesh; embracing the crown of thorns is to welcome the heart of flesh (the natural heart Ezekiel refers to).

What I have found is that we always have a choice. To embrace suffering or the path of grief is to embrace our cross: which is a rejection of the stony heart and an embrace of the natural one.

This past weekend at Easter Vigil, I read the above passage from Ezekiel. Easter Vigil may be my favorite church service. It’s the entire salvation story presented in one Mass. Starting with the creation story (Genesis 1:1-2:2), the Lord providing the sacrificial lamb Genesis 22:1-18), delivering his chosen people from the Egyptians (Exodus 14:15-15:1), the calling and provision for the chosen people (Isaiah 54:5-14 and Isaiah 55:1-11), the rejection of the Lord by the chosen people and His wooing of them to return (Baruch 3:9-15, 32-4:4): and finally this – God declares his justification to judge his people because of their sin, but instead chooses to relent. While justice deems banishment justified, the Lord demonstrates mercy – and grace -  for His name’s sake determining that not only will He gather His people, bringing them home – Hehimself – the Lord God -  will cleanse them of their sin and will give them a new heart and spirit – so that they will be able to glorify God, do His will – and be a sign to the nations that these are the people loved by God. Thus, it is not by works, but by grace through faith that we are saved; the Lord God will be the one to cleanse and to enliven our bodies and souls to perform the good works designed for us. (Ephesians 2:8-10)

I couldn’t get through this reading without crying. The beautiful privilege to be the people of God – we deserve it not. We have reviled him, rejected him, and soiled his name by what we have done and what we have failed to do. Yet, he doesn’t judge us as our sins deserve. He has determine to give us a new heart and a new spirit – and this gift could only come to us through suffering: the suffering of Jesus on the cross and his subsequent death. His resurrection allowed life to come to us: a new heart and a new spirit: His spirit.

Epistle  ROMANS 6:3-11
Brothers and sisters:
Are you unaware that we who were baptized into Christ Jesus
were baptized into his death?
We were indeed buried with him through baptism into death,
so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead
by the glory of the Father,
we too might live in newness of life.
For if we have grown into union with him through a death like his,
we shall also be united with him in the resurrection.
We know that our old self was crucified with him,
so that our sinful body might be done away with,
that we might no longer be in slavery to sin.
For a dead person has been absolved from sin.
If, then, we have died with Christ,
we believe that we shall also live with him.
We know that Christ, raised from the dead, dies no more;
death no longer has power over him.
As to his death, he died to sin once and for all;
as to his life, he lives for God.
Consequently, you too must think of yourselves as being dead to sin
and living for God in Christ Jesus.

1 comment:

PJ Colando said...

heaviness, heartfelt and full of grace = emergent you, cherished always, without end