As we have done throughout previous Lenten and Advent seasons, we are again blogging through the Lectionary readings in this Lenten season. This year, however, due to our travels in Central Asia, we have asked a number of guests to blog for us. These guests are individuals who are influential in our lives and work. We’re honored to share this space with them-and with you–in this season of reflection.
We are delighted to again have our friend, The Reverend John A. Thorpe, offering a meditation for us. He graciously accepted, and we are all blessed because of it. Rev. Thorpe is a graduate of Oral Roberts University (where we became friends), Yale Divinity School, and the Yale Institute of Sacred Music. He currently serves as the the Rector (Senior Pastor) of St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church in Newton, Iowa.
A reading from the Psalms
One thing have I asked of the LORD; one thing I seek; that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life; To behold the fair beauty of the LORD and to seek him in his temple.
For in the day of trouble he shall keep me safe in his shelter; he shall hide me in the secrecy of his dwelling and set me high upon a rock.
— Psalm 27:5-7
One thing have I asked… Am I single-minded to grow closer to Christ during Lent? Does the one, powerful, overwhelming truth of sin and forgiveness through Jesus dominate my day? When I wake up and the day’s routine begins, is it the cross that conditions how I greet my family and approach the day’s chores? When I get to the office, is it the cross that directs my relations with co-workers and my willingness to accommodate their eccentricities? At the end of the day, is it the cross? before meals, is it the cross? with my last conscious thought at night, is it the cross? Do the cruciform ashes, barely two weeks old, still burn their way through my thick-skulled forehead, filter my mind, and and cleanly mark my words, actions, inner self for all to see? Dust I am, and to dust I return – but He is a stone, and the chief cornerstone. Do I live in His warm and solid House, or am I still making Him tent with me along a dusty road? … that I may dwell in the House of the Lord all the days of my life…
… that I might behold the fair beauty of the Lord… The Cross! It frightens me – the justice of God is fearful, a day of darkness and not of light, a day of clouds and thick gloom. Sound the trumpet in Zion! Be astounded, be amazed, be shocked, be frightened – this is what you asked for. This is that One Thing you have asked. Growing closer to God means approaching the wild, fearful mystery of the cross. But the dread is even more because I am bid to take up my own cross and walk the slow steps of the dying Prince of Peace. I am bid to hold nothing nearer to my heart’s devotion and desire than the will of His Father (and mine), and to walk even to death in that determination. I am bid to set my face toward Jerusalem, as Jesus did. Yet not even my staunchest conviction will ransom me – I do not set my face toward Jerusalem as a Master, but as a servant following a Master. I go only where He goes, and only as I am told; and in the end it is not me that dies, but Him – for me. In this cross I am unmanned, a child who spills but has not yet the capacity either to sorrow or to clean, and who must wait upon Daddy. I am no longer a free being, unmade in God’s image, the responsibility for my freedom ripped away – for that my sins are not paid for by me, no matter my determination, my Lenten fasts, my prayers – they are paid for by a bloody Master who loves me more than Himself. Most Lovable Lord Jesus, do you love me more than yourself? Are you so blind to our respective merits? You are the beautiful one! By thine agony and bloody sweat, thou art the beautiful one! Being lifted up, your gory beauty draws me to yourself along the dusty pilgrim road and bids me stay at your feet. But I come, and weep, and go home to my tent again; and come, and weep, and go; and come, and go – but now not so far away. The dusty tent can move a little closer. And I come, and weep, and go. … and visit Him in His temple …
… for in the day of trouble he shall keep me safe in his shelter; he shall hide me in the secrecy of his dwelling … The dwelling of God is with men. In Tabernacle and Temple, the only truly secret place was the one place a person like me was absolutely forbidden to go: the Holy of Holies. Yet in the day of my trouble, you secret me there. At the moment of my temptation, when I am weakest and generally happy with that, you open to me the place nearest to your loving presence. You make your Great Heart most accessible when I am most likely to scorn, laugh, turn away, spike it down on wood and raise it high with a joke on the label. This is what frightens me most about the cross: that the Lord dared to make anything about it a matter of my free choice. I almost curse His choice to give me choice, to give me terrible, treasurable freedom in a weak and worldly vessel, to place in me the image of God as a pearl before the accursed, stampeding swine of my own frequent sins. What if my will fails? What if my love grows cold? or worse, lukewarm? What if I can’t stop the stampede? What if…? What if…? And as a mother hen, you gather me in, and gently, firmly whisper with heartbeats, “Even if…” “Even if…” “Even if…” Under the shadow of your wings, secreted close to your heart, even temptation falls away. Or I’m convinced it would, if my beat could but match yours. One, two… one, two… one, two… One thing only have I asked – but I don’t know how to ask it. Change me? Forgive me? Strengthen me? Be God to me? I dare not ask that which you actually promise: to lift me high upon a rock, to set a table in the presence of mine enemies, for a promised land, a promised rest, a crown, a new name – Lenten thoughts fly not so high. Dust I am, a tenting pilgrim uncertain of the direction of his pilgrimage. If only you would lift me up, so I could see – see what? One thing have I asked: to behold the fair beauty of the Lord, and to visit His sanctuary … and set me high upon a rock.