Letters in the footlocker

As we come to the end of our Lenten journey we begin to hear to the echoes of Holy Week and the Passion of the Christ: “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Amen, amen, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit.” It is hard to hear those words and not think of the coming passion, death and resurrection of Jesus. The One who came that we might have life and have it to the fullest. The One who even now, just like on the cross, has arms wide open to welcome and embrace us. The One whose heart is filled with love for us. The One who is love itself.

The One whom the prophets foretold. The One who would seal the covenant so broken in the past. “The days are coming, says the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. It will not be like the covenant I made with their [ancestors]..for they broke my covenant, …I will place my [covenant] within them and write it upon their hearts; I will be their God, and they shall be my people.” (Jer 31)

As we come to the end of our Lenten journey – Palm Sunday a week away and Holy Week right behind – the question that begs for us to answer is, “what is written in our hearts?” It is a question that is worthy of a lot more thought that just in the midst of a homily. It is a question with many facets. Do I believe I am part of the people of God? Do I love as Jesus did? Do I love as I ought? In fact, what evidence does my life give that this covenant of love is indeed written on my heart? Love God and neighbor these are the two great commandments, this is at the heart of the Covenant with God.

Think about how you love. We have some experience in love. We might have thoughts such as, “I love my spouse, my kids, my siblings, my best friend,” and the list goes on. “I really like my co-workers, the barista at the local Starbucks, my barber/hairdresser, my golf/tennis partners, ”…and the list goes on. “I am friendly with” … and the list goes on. “I exchange greetings with…,” and the list goes on. “I work with, I know, I see around…” and I think you get my point. The heart of our relationships is spread out along a spectrum. We love who we can. We know the difference between what is written on our hearts about those in the inner circle and folks “I work with, I know, I see around….”

Where is God on that spectrum? How, when, where and why do we love God? And be honest, where is God in the ever-expanding circle of love differentiated?

When we think about the love of our life, our heart is warmed, a flutter, … you know the feeling. When we think about God, what is our first thought, …or even your second thought. Do you think of God in the same breathless wonder as you do the loves of your life? I think we too often, consider:

  • God as watcher but not all that close to our lives.
  • Goes as divine scorekeeper.
  • God who is there when I want him and not I don’t want.
  • God whom I turned to when I am scared, hurt, upset, or lonely.
  • God who will do for now. Who knows, maybe something better comes along?
  • God who is there when the boat is sinking but conveniently absent when I am on the beach.
  • God of Sunday, who I don’t invite to Saturday night and seems missing the rest of the week.

… I could go on, but I think you get the point. Any and all of those thought are part of what is written in our hearts. Are they the love letters you want to write to God, the God who searches and reads our hearts?

Year ago, my sister and I found love letters dad wrote to mom during WWII. They were stuffed in an Army-green footlocker, tied together in a ribbon whose color had long faded with age. I am sure a bit of our conscience said to respect our parent’s privacy – but, you know how that goes. I still remember the letters written in my father’s strong Spencerian script. The words were passionate, longing, and spoke of a love for the ages.

Thinking about them now I am reminded of a reading from Scripture that is sometimes chosen for weddings, it is from the Song of Songs:

Hark! my lover–here he comes springing across the mountains, leaping across the hills. My lover is like a gazelle or a young stag. Here he stands behind our wall, gazing through the windows, peering through the lattices. My lover speaks; he says to me, “Arise, my beloved, my dove, my beautiful one, and come! “O my dove in the clefts of the rock, in the secret recesses of the cliff, Let me see you, let me hear your voice, for your voice is sweet, and you are lovely.”

It is not unusual to hear a bit of laughter during this first part of the reading. It was the same kind of amusement my sister and I experienced reading the flowery, mushy word of love in those letters.

The Song of Songs continues:

My lover belongs to me and I to him. He says to me: “Set me as a seal on your heart, as a seal on your arm; For stern as death is love, relentless as the nether world is devotion; its flames are a blazing fire. Deep waters cannot quench love, nor floods sweep it away.”

The lasting memory is the deep abiding passion and love my dad wrote to my mom – love unquenched, ablaze. There is no doubt what was written on my dad’s heart.

As we come to the end of our Lenten journey we hear the gospel tell us: “The hour has come.” The time is upon us to know that the words of the Bible we hear and will hear in Holy Week are the love letter God has written to us. The time is upon us to know that the Eucharist we receive is the love letter delivered. The hour has come for us to reach into the footlocker of our lives and re-open the letters and know “For stern as death is love, relentless as the nether world is devotion; its flames are a blazing fire. Deep waters cannot quench love, nor floods sweep it away.” Such is God’s love for us.

May we set that love as a seal on our arm and let it be the words written in our hearts.

The hour is upon us.

Amen.

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