Here we are in our second pandemic Lent. Maybe we feel that we have been in Lent all through these twelve virus-riddled months. Maybe we’re dreading a season of greater penance when we’re longing to get loose from restrictions as they are somewhat lifted. Maybe we’re just numb and Lent isn’t registering at all. We’re just too tired to face it. Or perhaps the familiar rituals and practices of Lent offer comfort when we are so in need of something or Someone who understands and can do something. about what’s happening to us.
It doesn’t matter where you are. Come to Lent as you are, in whatever state you find yourself in.
This morning I prayed with the narrative of Jesus healing the leper found in the Gospel of Mark. In Leviticus 13 we find the regulation for those who have leprosy:
“The one who bears the sore of leprosy
shall keep his garments rent and his head bare,
and shall muffle his beard;
he shall cry out, ‘Unclean, unclean!’
As long as the sore is on him he shall declare himself unclean,
since he is in fact unclean.
He shall dwell apart, making his abode outside the camp.”
Dropping down into my own heart, I found that there are many reasons why I, though I am not a leper, can cry out “Unclean!” before God. So many ways that I have not been all that I could have been, not given, or perhaps given what wasn’t needed and held back on what I wanted to keep. There is a blessed peace and a grace to acknowledge peacefully our “uncleanness” before our Maker.
St Francis de Sales encourages us to make our repentance moderate and peaceable, not anxious. He encourages us to learn to tolerate ourselves and others, to practice gentleness toward ourselves as well as others. To reprove ourselves without anger, bitterness, or impatience. Holding my own brokenness, gently calling sacred the past that more and more becomes apparent to me to be a place calling out for healing and new birth, I called out in a confident whisper to Jesus, “Unclean!”
I stood beside the leper in Mark’s Gospel who dared to approach Jesus and tell him confidently: “If you will, you can cure me!” Lepers by regulation, as we saw above, were to remain outside the camp so as not to infect others. This leper, however, risked everything by approaching Jesus who no doubt was surrounded by a crowd of people. In the two lines of the Gospel story it seems like it was an ordinary run-of-the-mill request. Leper shows up and makes his request. To his request, Jesus responds, “I do will it, be cured.” End of story. Can you imagine, though, the drama as people realized a leper was standing “inside the community space” right next to them. The leper was a threat to their health and survival. And Jesus stretched out his hand and touched the leper. Jesus didn’t run. He didn’t tell him to leave because he was a danger to him. He didn’t even call attention to how he was breaking the regulations. Instead he heard only the request. He saw only the leper’s heart. He was moved only by his most compassionate love that brought him to earth to save and heal a wounded race.
Though I called out “Unclean!” and though I felt more sharply the uncleanness within, I stood with braveness beside the leper immortalized by the Gospel writer. “If you will, you can cure me! You can make me clean!” I felt his hand upon my head and let it rest upon me. “Be clean,” Jesus said with a firm yet quiet command. “Be clean!” It reverberated through the caverns of need and hope within me. Sometimes when we think of prayer, of Jesus, we forget that he interacts with us as we are in our humanness, our human need for human touch, our human need to know everything will be all right, our human need for someone to come and rescue us when we are overwhelmed or powerless in the face of something bigger than us. “Be clean!” Jesus’ outstretched hand steadying, strengthening, calming.
Many moments of taking in Jesus’ strengthening touch…. Heart opening to Heart, receiving the slow and subtle seeping of grace into the desert now turning into an oasis. “Clean!”
I am clean. Clean. Clean. Clean.
The experience of Jesus’ willingness to cleanse, to extend his hand in blessing and healing, means different things to each one of us. What has been the most powerful experience you have had with someone in your life who has been there to physically steady you with his or her hand, to bless or heal you? When have you experienced surprise and astounding wonder at what was done for you or given to you?
For me, the words uttered by Jesus and his strong yet gentle gesture are spousal words, the gesture of the Lover in the Song of Songs offering his hand to the beloved that they might be one. The Lover says in the Song of Songs 1:15:
Look at you, my dearest darling,
you are so lovely!
You are beauty itself to me.
Your passionate eyes are like gentle doves.
The King of kings and Lord of lords who makes clean even takes the leper’s place–while the leper had had to remain outside the camp because of his disease, after curing the man from leprosy “it was impossible for Jesus to enter a town openly, and he remained outside in deserted places.” Lent is about touching intimately and profoundly the reality that we have been made clean at Jesus’ own expense, at the cost of his life. He died that we might live.
The only response, so beautiful and yet so painfully common, is gratitude. The inner treasure of gratitude can be overlooked because saying “Thank you” is a reflex action for anyone with a good upbringing. Gratefulness’ inner sanctuary is not like the astonishment on winning the lottery. It is the created one whose hand is held by her Maker, to whom she bows to the dust in awe that she would be noticed by so great a King, desired, and crowned his Bride, invited to sit beside him. Psalm 45 expresses it this way:
Now listen, daughter, pay attention, and forget about your past.
Put behind you every attachment to the familiar,
even those who once were close to you!
For your royal Bridegroom is ravished by your beautiful brightness.
Bow in reverence before him, for he is your Lord!
The offering of royalty, from which arises the incredibly humble awareness of unworthiness in the sudden realization and joy that it doesn’t matter any more. You have been made clean!
May you come to Jesus this Lent like a trusting child in this way for it is to those who trust in him that the Father has planned to extend his kingdom (Matthew 11):
“Are you weary, carrying a heavy burden? Then come to me. I will refresh your life, for I am your oasis. Simply join your life with mine. Learn my ways and you’ll discover that I’m gentle, humble, easy to please. You will find refreshment and rest in me. For all that I require of you will be pleasant and easy to bear.” Amen.