Thursday, February 07, 2008

holy, holy, holy

Today, I can hardly start any better than with the sermon we heard last night at Cornell’s Episcopal service. The priest, Barb Schmitz, spoke on “observing a holy Lent,” in keeping with the conclusion to the preface of Ash Wednesday:
I invite you, therefore, in the name of the Church, to the observance of a holy Lent, by self-examination and repentance; by prayer, fasting, and self-denial; and by reading and meditating on God's holy Word.
She never defined “holiness,” so let me try to begin with that.

Etymologically, the word “holy” is related to the German “heilig” and the Greek “hagios” (as in “hagiology,” the study of the life of a saint). It doesn’t appear to be directly related to the word “whole,” but it does in origin mean that which must be kept whole, or must not be violated. I was raised with the teaching that “holy” simply means set apart and devoted, specifically to God.

Barb began by telling about an interview she heard a year or so ago with Nancy Pelosi. When asked if her parents would be proud that she was going to be the first woman Speaker of the House, she responded,
They'd be proud, but they didn't raise me to be the speaker. They raised me to be holy; they raised me to care about other people.
How many parents, she asked, would have holiness as their primary desire for their children? And what do we know about God’s desire for us? God has made us into “a royal priesthood, a holy nation.” St. Peter makes this description after talking about how Christ sets the foundation and the standard for the church, but it is still easy to reject Him. He lived a perfect life in this world, and we should seek to be holy as He is holy (as God commanded the people of Israel long before).

Barb pointed out that the Book of Common Prayer lays out the ways for us to practice holiness in the season of Lent: see the first quote above. The preface of the day also mentions that, historically, the penitential nature of Lent was in preparation for the celebration of Easter. That, for anyone who wonders, is why we have six weeks of fasting. But there is a greater resurrection ahead—the time when God will make all of us perfectly holy—and we should strive in the interim to become more like Jesus. Not to “prove” ourselves to God (or, for that matter, the world), but in awe and gratefulness.

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