Sunday, March 4, 2018

3 Lent

3 Lent

March 4, 2018

John 2.13-22

+ It took me five weeks, but I’ve been going through my mother’s things this last week. I finally worked up the courage to do so. It’s been slow going, though. But I need to do it.

One of the things I found in going through her things was something I was looking for the night she died. Before she was cremated the day after she died, I planned on making sure she was cremated with my maniturgium.

What is that, you’re probably asking? Well, it comes from the Latin words Mani or hand and turgium, which means towel. So, it’s a hand towel. But in this case it’s more than that.

In the Roman Catholic and in the Anglo-Catholic tradition of Anglicanism, when a priest is ordained, their hands are anointed with chrism by the Bishop. Chrism is that special oil consecrated by a Bishop, smelling of nard.

As they are anointed, the Bishop prays this prayer:

Grant, O Lord, to consecrate and sanctify these hands by this unction, and by our blessing; that whatsoever they may bless may be blessed, and whatsoever they consecrate shall be consecrated and sanctified in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

The maniturgium is them wrapped around the chrism-covered hands to wipe them.

Well, my maniturgium is nothing fancy. It’s simply an old corporal—a white altar cloth—that was about to burned. And my hands actually weren’t anointed at my priestly ordination fourteen years ago. They were anointed a few years later.

The reason they weren’t anointed at the ordination is more complex than I want ot get in here.
But a few years later, let’s just say, they were in fact anointed and the old corporal that was being discarded and burned was rescued to wrap my hands after the anointing.

Later, I presented this cloth to my mother, which is the tradition. That tradition
states that the priest is to present the maniturgium to their mother.  The maniturgium is then usually buried in the hands of the mother of a priest when she dies.

Why? You may ask. Well, the tradition states that when the mother of a priest comes before Jesus, he will as her, “I have given you life. What have you given me?”

And the mother is to reply, “I have given you my child as a priest” and then hands him the maniturgium.

At this, the story goes, Jesus grants her entrance into heaven. (Let’s not even begin to unpack some of the really bad theology behind all of that!)

But it’s a great story.  And it is one my mother really loved!  (I think she liked the guarantee to get into heaven)

Let me tell you: there was no one prouder to have a child for a priest than my mother. So, you can imagine why I was a bit upset not having that maniturgium there for her when she was cremated. I searched through her dresser and her closet looking for it.  I then concluded that at some point, maybe she had just accidentally thrown it out.  Which would have been fine.  So, I shrugged it off and just let it go (though I do admit I really had hoped it would’ve been in her hands when she was cremated)

Well, on Friday night, I happened to open her cedar chest, and guess what? There it was, right on the top, neatly folded, still stained with chrism, still smelling of nard (and cedar). So, I will place it in her urn before I seal it and its buried.

I also have to believe that that poor corporal really did not want to get burned!

So, cleaning out the clutter is a good thing. A really good thing. Because in doing so, we might find important things. Because if I held off, I might not have found it until after we buried her ashes.

I think this story is good for us during Lent.  Lent, as you have heard me say over and over again, is a time for us to sort of quiet ourselves of course. But it is also a time to get rid of whatever clutter we might have knocking around inside us or in our lives.

Clutter is that stuff in our lives—and “stuff” is the prefect word for it—that just piles up.  If you’re anything like me, we sometimes start ignoring our clutter. We sort of do that too with our own spiritual clutter.  We don’t give it a second thought, even when we’re tripping over it and stumbling on it.

In fact, often we don’t fully realize how much clutter we have until after we’ve disposed of it.  When we see that clean, orderly room, we realize only then how clutter sort of made us lose our appreciation for the beauty of the room itself.

In Lent, what we dispose of is the clutter of our spiritual lives. And we all have spiritual clutter. We have those things that “get in the way.” We have our bad habits. We have those things that we do without even thinking we’re doing them. And oftentimes, they’re not good for us—or at least they don’t enhance our spiritual lives.

Often the clutter in our spiritual lives gets in the way of our prayer life, our spiritual discipline, our all-important relationship with God.  The clutter in our spiritual life truly becomes something we find ourselves “tripping” over. The clutter in our spiritual life causes us to stumble occasionally. And when it does, we find our spiritual life less than what it should be. Sometimes it’s just “off.”

During Lent, it is an important time to take a look around us.  It is important to actually see the spiritual clutter in our lives and to clear it away in whatever ways we can.

In our Gospel reading for today, we find Jesus going into the temple and clearing out the clutter there. He sweeps the Temple clean, because he knows that the clutter of the merchants who have settled there are not enhancing the beauty of the Temple.

 “Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace!”

They are not helping people in their relationship with God. Rather, these merchants are there for no spiritual reasons at all, ultimately. They are there for their own gain and for nothing else.

In a sense, we need to, like Jesus, clean out the “merchants” in our lives as well.  We need to have the Temple of our bodies cleaned occasionally.  We need to sweep it clean and, in doing so, we will find our spirituality a little more finely tuned.  We will find our prayer life a more fulfilling. We will find our time at Eucharist more meaningful. We will find our engaging of Scripture to be more edifying. We will find our service to others to be a bit more selfless and purposeful than it was before. We will see things with a clearer spiritual eye—which we need.

It is a matter of simplifying our spiritual lives. It is matter of recognizing that in our relationship with God and one another, we don’t need the clutter—we don’t need those things that get in the way.

We don’t need anything to complicate our spiritual lives. There are enough obstacles out there. There will always be enough “stuff” falling into our pathways, enough ”things” for us to stumble over. Without the clutter in our lives, it IS easier to keep our spiritual lives clean. Without the clutter in our life, we find things are just…simpler.

In our Gospel reading, we also find that the Temple Jesus is cleaning out and cleansing serves its purpose for now, but even it will be replaced with something more perfect and something, ultimately, more simple.  In a sense, our own bodies become temples of this living God because of what Jesus did. Our bodies become the house of God, of Abba.  Our bodies also become the dwelling places of that one, living God. We will become the Temples of the living God.

Which brings us back to Lent.  In this season of Lent, we become mindful of this simple fact.  Our bodies are the temples of that One, living God.  God dwells within us much as God dwelt in the Temple.  Because God dwells in us, we have this holiness inherent within us.

We are holy. Each of us.  Because of this Presence within us, we find ourselves wanting to cleanse the temple.  We find ourselves examining ourselves, looking closely at the things over which we trip and stumble.  We find ourselves realizing that the clutter of our lives really does distract us from remembering that God dwells with us and within us.  And when we realize that, we really do want to work on ourselves a bit.

We work at trying to simplify our lives—our actual, day-to-day lives, as well as our spiritual lives.  We want to actually spend time in prayer, in allowing that living God to dwell fully within us and to enlighten us.  We fast—emptying our bodies and purifying ourselves.  We recognize the wrongs we have done to ourselves and to others.  We realize that we have allowed this clutter to build up. We realize we have not loved God or our neighbors. Or even ourselves. Or we have loved ourselves too much, and not God and our neighbors enough.

Once we have eliminated the spiritual clutter of our lives, we do truly find our God dwelling with us. We find ourselves worshipping in that Body that cannot be cluttered. We find a certain simplicity and beauty in our lives that comes only through spiritual discipline.

So, as we continue our journey through Lent, let us, like Jesus, take up the cords and go through the temple of our own selves. Let us, like him, clear away the clutter of our lives. Let us cleanse the temple of our own self and make it like the Temple worthy of God.  And when that happens, we will find ourselves proclaiming, with Psalm 69,

“Zeal for your house will consume me.”

For it will.

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