As these Lenten days lengthen and more light pours through my windows, banishing the darkness of night, I consider spring cleaning.
Lent is a time of cleaning out the cobwebs and dust of our souls. It is a time to open the windows to let in the light, but to make sure the windows are clean first. Then, when the light enlightens the rooms of our hearts and minds, we shall see those rooms clearly.
So I consider my envies, prides, gluttonies, truth-telling. Have I been snide, uncaring, thoughtless? Have I been absorbed by my own little wants and cares and needs? Have I forgotten someone who needs my love, ignored the lonely, rushed past the quiet ones not always seen? We call this scrutiny self-examination, and when we admit to what we see and we promise to do better, we name it confession and repentance.
Lent reminds us, pulls us to see, shines a spotlight on our hearts.
I try to do a little soul cleaning each night, but I’m afraid, truth be told, my cleaning out is more once a week, and sometimes not that. There – that’s one confession and promise to amend, my lack of examination. It is good to go to a priest for sacramental confession, but the daily intimate ones in the evening at the end of the day are valuable habits, a time alone with my Creator. And daily examination keeps the windows sparkling clean (or helps, anyway), allowing even more light inside.
Today’s Gospel was a cleaning-out account. Our Lord explains that casting out demons isn’t enough, for they will happily return in even greater numbers. He is talking about what happens with a vacuum, when something is emptied. We empty ourselves of the sins that dirty our sight, for windows are for looking out of as well bring light in, but what happens then? Our Lord says that he who is not with me is against me; he that gathers not with me, scatters; a house divided cannot stand. Famous words, important words, life-changing, life-fulfilling words.
So we need to empty, but also to be filled, full-filled, and the filling up is just as crucial to our sight as the emptying. The dirty window metaphor ends here, as all metaphors must end, having their limitations. But now what do we see, and what do we do to protect our hearts from invasion once again? We fill our hearts and minds and souls with God.
Our soul-house full of God, we enter time renewed, reborn, protected by the power of the Holy Spirit.
Not a bad result, I think. But how do we do this? How do we fill ourselves with God? Our preacher explained today we are fed, filled, by Holy Scripture, given to us by the Church, the Body of Christ. We are fed, filled, by Christ himself in the Holy Eucharist. We are fed, filled, by regular worship and daily prayer life.
All this has been given to us. All this – this festival of God – is here for the taking, for the sweet sweet joy of it.
This morning, for not the first time, I was swept on a tide of joy as I knelt in the pew with my parish family and joined in the Post-Communion hymn. My heart was filled with gratitude for the Church, this Body of Christ, that this richness, this God-life had been given to me. The hymn we sang was a familiar tune, that old altar-call Billy Graham often used:
Just as I am without one plea, But that thy blood was shed for me,
And that thou bidd’st me come to thee, O Lamb of God, I come, I come.
Just as I am, though tossed about With many’s conflict, many a doubt;
Fightings and fears within, without, O Lamb of God, I come, I come.
Just as I am, poor, wretched, blind; Sight, riches, healing of the mind,
Yea, all I need, in thee to find, O Lamb of God, I come, I come.
Just as I am: thou wilt receive; Wilt welcome, pardon, cleanse,relieve,
Because thy promise I believe, O Lamb of God, I come.
Just as I am, thy love unknown Has broken every barrier down;
Now to be thine, yea, thine along, O Lamb of God, I come.
Just as I am, of thy great love The breadth, length, depth, and height to prove,
Here for a season, then above: O Lamb of God, I come.
(Charlotte Elliott, 1836)
These words remind me as I write this that only God can truly clean us out, cast out those demons, take us just as we are, when we open the windows of our souls. But we must come.
These words also remind me that God does this through his incarnation, through becoming the Lamb of God, replacing the old sacrificial lamb of Israel, becoming the new covenant, slain, to redeem us all.
And so as these Lenten days lengthen we look to Easter, to Resurrection Day, and to the glory of that piercing, revealing, morning light.