A glorious and a blessed Easter to you on this holiest day of the year… it’s the perfect time to: “Shout Alleluia! Come-on Get Holy!” I’m sure Harold Ahrlen and Ted Koehler will forgive us for tinkering with their lyrics. It’s in a good cause. Today we celebrate that we have been made holy through the life, death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ. We are the beloved of our Risen Savior… and we have been born again to eternal life in the Body of Christ.
And yet, even on an Easter Sunday morning, when asked if we are holy, most of us would probably dodge the question. It somehow just feels unseemly to declare ourselves holy. Some might say we hope to be holy. Others might say we try to do the right thing, but you certainly couldn’t call us holy. We dodge the question because we really don’t know what holiness is.
Here’s a good working definition of holiness that I found recently: Holiness is constantly trying to heal what separates us from God. For Christians, holiness means that Christ is an active presence in our daily lives. We live to humbly witness his love. We are neither moral exhibitionists, nor graceless zombies. We’re in it for the holiness, not for the halos.
As people of faith we are called to holiness, not to happiness. We are not here to complete a bucket list of earthly experiences or to die with the most stuff. Sure, that can be fun. But at best it’s a temporary rush, too often purchased at the price of a wasted life. Lasting joy is a byproduct of holiness. It not only gets the pleasure endorphins pumping, it creates an enduring sense of well-being and purpose. It fills us with a serenity that only comes from knowing we are exactly where we were always meant to be. And that’s just the good stuff that happens in this life. God has promised over and over that eternal happiness is waiting for us. Christ paid for it on Calvary. Our baptism infuses us with his holiness and joins us to his sacrifice.
God created us for holiness… it must be the objective of our lives, as well as our way of life. It is a process as much as it is a product… a journey as much as a destination. We should be deliberate and unrelenting in that pursuit. Thomas Merton was out in a field observing an enormous swarm of starlings, when suddenly at the sight of a hawk circling very high above, the flock panicked and flew in all directions. The hawk dove right through this explosion of feathers to snare its prey. Merton mused: That hawk really knows its business. Nothing distracted it. It was on-target all the way. Merton knew his business too. He came to realize that he was born to be holy and he purged everything from his life that could distract him from that target.
How different we are. Do we really know our business? Or are we at the whim of conflicting priorities? I’ll bet few of our to-do lists begin with: “Try to heal what separates us from God.” In fact, are we even aware that it is our business to be holy and to let nothing distract us from that business?
At life’s end, to be holy means to answer yes to God’s question “Were you true in my creation of you?” Yes, God loves us as we are. But he doesn’t want to leave us that way. It is the original: “I love you. Now change.” But with one essential difference: God isn’t complaining. He’s transforming.
God doesn’t want you to die a bigot… a drunk… a lecher… or more likely, he doesn’t want us to waste the life he gave us being proud, self-centered creatures… indistinguishable from those who have never had the benefit of his saving grace. God wants us to fix ourselves so that we can fix the world. That fix is called holiness. We were baptized into it. It is in us, but it must be nurtured. That comes from a life of listening to God… from talking to him… and from following him.
Micah Stampley, a brilliant young lyricist, summed up the quest for holiness in a beautiful, contemporary hymn called: “Take My Life.” He tells us that: “Holiness is what I long for. Holiness is what I need.” It may take an attitude adjustment. It may take some getting used to. And it certainly will take working at. So this Easter morning accept that you are God’s beloved… and “Shout Alleluia! Come on get holy!” It’s what God made you for. And in the end, holiness is all you’ll ever need.
The Reverend David Sellery, Episcopal Priest, Author, and Coach. Fr. Sellery presently serves as Priest-in-Charge, St. John’s Salisbury, CT. Fr. Sellery has excelled at using new media to increase outreach beyond the Church doors via his website, blog posts, and podcasts.
Photo by Ann Fontaine