What are the signs that this day is holy to the Lord? We celebrate the mass on Sundays because the commandments tell us to, saying “remember the Sabbath and keep it holy,” but is it holy only because God says so? I think that is a smashingly good reason, by the way, but it is not how we know.
We are people, we are the recipients of the gift of sight, smell, sound, the feeling of hand in hand as the peace is shared, and we are led around by the senses that God has given us, we follow the one ahead of us, our front end edging ever closer to their back end. We smell the baking of bread and our thoughts are led inexorably to childhood and the smell of the neighborhood bakery if we were lucky enough to have one, our parents kitchens is we were very lucky indeed.
We are led by our senses and trust them because they are the noisiest guides we have. God gave them to us so that we could appreciate all that creation has to offer but also so that we could see God, sometimes out of the corners of our eyes but sometimes right in front of us if we will only see. God gave us ears to hear the angels sing in the birds of the field, in the squeals of joy from a playground, but also to hear the Spirit speak through the voices of the very lucky pastors who are blessed to hear it themselves, to hear the Spirit speak through the voices of the Body of Christ, telling their story.
We smell God in the rose and in the lilac but not the star jasmine, that’s a bit much for me. In bread and wine we taste and we see and we know that the promises are real and the Lord abides with us.
We are flooded with the Lord, we are swamped with the Lord, we are overwhelmed with the evidence of our senses that the Christ is with us and all around us, upholding us before our God, saving us even still.
All it takes is for us to see it, all it takes is for us to grasp ahold of the live wire of God’s activity in the world, the Spirit’s speaking, the Christ’s saving the Father’s promises coming true in fragrant blossom all around us if only we will see God in every single thing.
And that is no mean trick. I don’t mean it is difficult to see God in all things, I mean that it is difficult to convince ourselves that God is what we are seeing.
We’re far more likely to think we’re seeing Elvis.
You have to combine faith and vision to see God in the sunrise and you have to combine faith and smell to find God in the rose. The gift we have been given, the senses that allow us to perceive the world around us are also something of a trap, they convince us that they are al that there is.
And if the world we perceive is all that there is, then there is no way to tell if this day today is holy.
It matters, you know. It matters that the day is holy unto the Lord. A day holy unto the Lord is a day filled with song, filled with joy, not the simple happiness we ourselves with our own senses can bring about, but joy, the kind of transcendent feeling only harmony with God can bring. Joy is the faith in God and the sure knowledge that yours is a salvation wrought at great cost so that your life could be filled to the brim with blessings, with fruitful labor, with rich and meaningful relationships, with all of the things that are easy to recognize and hard to count, impossible to put a price tag on.
Yours is a salvation wrought at great cost so that your life could be filled with days that are holy unto the Lord.
The Marines say that in the Corps “every day is a holiday and every meal is a feast” but can you imagine actually living that way? Actually living as if each thing you encountered bore the fingerprints of God and was gifted to you that day to be a blessing to you, that every person you met was a potential lifelong friend, best man, bridesmaid, counselor, confessor, companion? Can you imagine living each day as a holy day? Not a holiday with the modern connotations of taking time off and spending too much money, but a Holy day, a day loaded up with importance because on this day God is really leaning in to the task at hand.
And the task at hand is you.
Ever since God taught humanity their first lesson way back in the beginning, we have been, you have been the special project of the Lord. For you were the books of Moses written, for your instruction and your edification. For you was the world saved from the flood. For you was the messiah born and for you did the messiah die.
The task at hand is us, you, me, the children, the task at hand is us and the Holy days are the ones where God is most present, where blessings are most abundant, where people are most filled with Joy.
So, back to the initial question, how do you know?
It would be easy to say that on those days you are feeling at your best, you are confident and self-assured, surely those are the keys to joy, right? On those days you must stride the earth like a colossus, filled with faith that salvation is your and cannot be wrestled away from you, you are forgiven and whole free and blessed.
It would be easy to count the holy days as the ones in which you receive the most from God, where you feel God’s presence the most in the faith and confidence of God’s promise.
It would be easy to say all of that but all of that, if you will notice, is all about you, the individual you, the singular you.
Nehemiah this morning refers to all the people, again and again it is all the people. Ezra stands up and reads and all the people say “Amen, Amen” because they are filled with the beauty of the word of God, the Law that God sent as part of God’s holy task to bring us to freedom and they weep.
They are filled with the love of God, and the Law of God and the faith in God and all of the they walk in that confidence and that assuredness and they weep.
They have received all that God has to give them and they weep.
They do not know how to do anything else. It is just too much. To make this something that happens in your life, to reduce the glory of God to an ATM machine giving out blessings to the ones who know God’s PIN number is to only have one way of showing forth the meaning of God in your life, you just sit there and weep at the grace, at the magnificence of God’s care, God’s loving provision for you.
And that is great but it doesn’t go far enough. Awe is nice but a day that is holy to the Lord is a day willed with joy, with abundance, with fellowship and with hope. Weeping at the glory is just the beginning.
The day that is holy unto the Lord is not on the calendar as such. We do not mark it and celebrate it in an appropriate fashion with seasonally appropriate decorations and rituals suited to that day. The day holy to the Lord is not thanksgiving, or Easter, or St. Swithun’s day. To make it such would be to try and cage the wind, to try and chain the tide to the shore.
The grace of God is larger, more abundant that even you know. Your senses, so trusted and such a blessing as cannot be told, well they lie to you sometimes.
You look to the end of your arm and think that that is as far as you can reach because, well, growing up human as most of you have, the end of your arm is as far as you can reach, with your arm. The things that you touch can be held “at arms reach” and unless you throw them, then that is as far as they can go, as far as you can go with assurance. Sure you throw the ball, but does it always go where you wanted?
Smell, touch, sight, hearing, taste, they all describe a world as a collection of things, smells and tastes and sounds that describe the world. What we do not realize is that they also proscribe the world. There is a banana out there in the world that tastes like apples but we do not eat that banana because that is just weird. There are bananas that smell like roses but we do not eat them because roses are supposed to smell like roses.
We make definitions and limitations on what we are supposed to see and hear and taste, what things are because of how we receive them.
We are seldom open to having our expectations rocked.
But the day that is holy unto the Lord is a day of rocking. Our expectations, our pre-suppositions, our understanding. Simply sitting there and weeping at the glory of the Lord is not what will happen, we will do things we did not intend, we will find ourselves lost and not fearful, we will see ourselves as God sees us and we will know one another as we were meant to know.
Christ coming into our lives, into the temple we have been given in which He means to dwell is the beginning of a new vision, a new hope that we did not know before, leaping instead of weeping, we find joy in the Word of God because our eyes have been opened, our ears have been freed from the noise of our own expectations, we taste heaven in bread and wine and we smell the sweetness of honey, not in a jar on the shelf but in the love and caring of the people all around us.
We are transformed by the fulfillment of the promises, the scriptures given to the people of God.
In Christ we can finally glimpse what holiness looks like and it is not pride and greatness of stature, it is not in monuments of stone or wood, in relics or in stained glass.
We are rocked to find that holiness is in stooping to lift up a child, in healing the hemorrhage of a lost and bereaved woman on the streets when the disciples all did the smart thing, and tried to push her away lest Jesus become unclean. We are rocked to find that holiness smells like someone who cannot always wash the way we might like them to, the way we have grown accustomed to. Its taste is sometimes bitter and it is frequently rough.
It is in Nehemiah’s portions, the ones set aside for those for whom nothing has been prepared.
Holiness is in the hands that bring that portion. In those hands is joy.
It doesn’t matter if it is in your plans for the day or whether you simply find yourself reaching out, the hand of one creature seeking the hand of another, the heart of one child of God extending themselves, even just a little tiny bit, for the sake of another. You may simply find yourself doing it without knowing, without actually perceiving that it is the Spirit within you that moves you. It may be that like the disciples, when you realize what is going on your first instinct is to pull back, to find safety, to seek your own protection.
In Christ we glimpse holiness and what a day holy to the Lord might look like and that confounds the senses. He is not mighty, He lacks polish, the Bible never speaks of Him bathing except for that Baptism bit in the river Jordan. And yet as Jesus moves among us, reaching out the hand of God robed in human flesh we see that joy is found where God points and God never points to how great we are.
Jesus was pointed at us all, not because of how great we are but because of how great God’s love is. Jesus was pointed at us and we find ourselves caring for the ones who stumble, healing the hemorrhage when we can, holding the hand when we can’t and always, always seeking the face of God in the unlikeliest of places. Then and there is joy found, is the life we live squeezed of every drop of grace God has for us and still we find more, then and there we find our hands reaching out, bringing the portion to feed those for whom nothing has been prepared and there we are surprised by our senses because all that we know and all that we encounter is blessed beyond our reckoning and we see the day Holy to the Lord, and we taste the day and we smell the fragrance of it and we hear the songs the angels sing without ceasing and we reach out and the face we touch is the face of God.