Lent and Easter are a season blessed. An invitation to return home. A time to hope, to trust, to rise, even from the dead. To see ourselves as nations and as individuals in the light of God’s love. Where shall we begin?
God’s Love for a Rebellious People
I said, ‘Here I am, here I am!’ to a nation that did not invoke my name. Each day I stretched out my hands to a rebellious people who follow a way which is not good, as the fancy takes them…(Isaiah 65: 1 – 2). But the more I called, the further they went away from me; they offered sacrifice to Baal and burnt incense to idols. I myself taught Ephraim (the other name for Israel, the northern kingdom) to walk. I myself took them by the arm, but they did not know that I was the one caring for them, that I was leading them with human ties, with leading-strings of love, that, with them, I was like someone lifting an infant to his cheek, and that I bent down to feed him (Hosea 11:1 – 4). “I am God, not man, the Holy One in your midst, and I shall not come to you in anger” (Hosea 11:9). “I shall betroth you to myself for ever, I shall betroth you in uprightness and justice, and faithful love and tenderness. Yes, I shall betroth you to myself in loyalty and in the knowledge of God (Hosea 2: 21 – 22).
Come as you are
This is the perennial and indeed the daily message that comes from the Lord. If only we would listen. From the dawn of history. Addressed to the saint and the sinner, the rich and the poor, the haughty and the humble, the learned and the ignorant, the healthy and the frail, the young and the elderly, to all those in between, to you and to me, to each and to every one of us.
As Easter approaches the call comes more powerfully and compellingly. But it is to be heard as a gentle whisper of Love. Calling ‘me’ by name. Knocking at ‘my’ door, which only I can open to Him from within. The invitation is from the God the Almighty Creator of all that is. Who shows us through His Son, that for us He is Father. The Father prodigal in his compassion, tenderness and readiness to comfort, heal and uplift. Who awaits His every child, regardless of age and spiritual complexion. Who comes, touches, without anger, blame, or threat of punishment or retribution; with the assurance of God’s compassion and steadfast love. Eleos: the Divine love that envelops us all.
Hymn of Welcome
“Come as you are. That’s how I want you. Come as you are. Feel quite at home. Close to my heart, loved and forgiven. Come as you are, Why stand alone. No need to fear, Love sets no limits, no need to fear, Love never ends. Don’t run away, Shamed and disheartened, rest in my love, trust me again. I came to call sinners, not just the virtuous, I came to bring peace, not to condemn. Each time you fail to live by my promise, why do you think I’d love you the less.” (Fr. Paul Gurr, Carmelite Priest.)
In our hearts we hear the Lord: Come, as you are. I will carry you. I will raise you up. Do not be afraid. My grace will comfort you and be your strength. However, I will change you, because I love you too much to leave you the way you are. But we will do this together. Slowly. Surely. And you will learn that “To fall in love with God is the greatest of all romances. To seek him, the greatest adventure. To find him, the greatest human achievement” (St. Augustine).
To those who are willing, the Voice says, “… go before the Lord to prepare a way for him, to give his people knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins, because of the faithful love of our God in which the rising Sun has come from on high to visit us, to give light to those who live in darkness and the shadow dark as death, and to guide our feet into the way of peace” (Luke 1:76 – 79). Or, ‘Come after me and I will make you into fishers of people’ (Mark 1: 17).
If I have wandered away, however far, will I continue to look away? Ashamed? Disheartened? Preoccupied with my own trivial pursuits, so often, important enough to ignore the call of the Lord? Would that be the real me who turns away? Or would it not be the false me? The one who is impaled on my selfish self? For the real me knows something different in the depths of my being. Something very different?
Do the prayers offered in song by the Indian poet and Nobel Peace Prize winner, Rabindranath Tagore, (1861 -1941) apply to me? Could I not learn from them? In ‘Gitanjali’ he writes,
“He whom I enclose with my name is weeping in this dungeon. I am ever busy building this wall all around; and as this wall goes up into the sky day by day I lose sight of my true being in its dark shadow. I take pride in this great wall, and I plaster it with dust and sand lest a least hole should be left in this name; and for all the care I take I lose sight of my true being… “My debts are large, my failures great, my shame secret and heavy; yet when I come to ask for my good, I quake in fear lest my prayer be granted… “Obstinate are the trammels, but my heart aches when I try to break them. Freedom is all I want, but to hope for it I feel ashamed. I am certain that priceless wealth is in Thee, and that Thou art my best friend, but I have not the heart to sweep away the tinsel that fills my room. The shroud that covers me is a shroud of dust and death; I hate it, yet hug it in love… “That I want thee, only thee, let my heart repeat without end. All desires that distract me, day and night, are false and empty to the core. As the night keeps hidden in its gloom the petition for light, even thus in the depth of my unconsciousness rings the cry, ‘I want Thee, only Thee’. As the storm still seeks its end in peace when it strikes against peace with all its might, even thus my rebellion strikes against thy love and still its cry is, ‘I want thee, only Thee’…”This is my prayer to Thee, my Lord, Strike, strike at the root of penury in my heart. Give me the strength lightly to bear my joys and sorrows. Give me the strength to make my love fruitful in service. Give me the strength never to disown the poor or bend my knees before insolent might. Give me the strength to raise my mind high above daily trifles. And give me the strength to surrender my strength to Thy will with love.”
Prayer and Petition
We give thanks to Christ the Lord who died on the cross that we might live. Lord Jesus , do not allow us to grow used to sin. May your death bring us to life. End the rebellion within our hearts. Lord, break the bonds of sin which our weaknesses have forged to enchain us, and in your loving mercy forgive your people’s guilt. (Prayer of the Church: Friday, Week 5 in Lent.)