Today I Have Removed ...

Br. Cody Jorgensen, O.P.'s picture
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The following is a transcript of a reflection given at Saturday Vespers. It is based on the First Reading from the Fourth Sunday of Lent (Joshua 5:9a, 10-12).

When Easter comes around, there's one thing that I immediately think about: Charlton Heston and The Ten Commandments. Growing up in a “culturally Christian” home, we did very few religious things in the house, going to church typically on Christmas and Easter…however, there was one thing that I looked forward to a great deal, and that was watching The Ten Commandments. Now, at the time, I don't know if I genuinely liked the movie. All I knew was that it was about four hours long on TV and that meant I got to stay up far past my normal bedtime. Around the age of seven, that's a big plus.

So when this reading from Joshua came up, it wasn't my Evangelical upbringing that instantly placed this passage in context, reminding me of the Exodus. It was, for better or worse, the reference to Egypt, which instantly reminds me of Charlton Heston proclaiming to Pharaoh: “Let my people go!”

It always seems to me like a stretch to see relevance in the Old Testament stories, and it wasn't until my first year as a baptized Catholic going through Lent that I had the epiphany that this entire recounting of the Israelites in the desert is most powerfully seen as an example for us in our spiritual lives. It's the example of leaving our sinful selves behind in Egypt, wandering through the purifying desert of Sinai and finally having the hope of entering into the Promised Land.

As we now approach the fourth Sunday of Lent, we hear from the Lord: “Today I have removed the reproach of Egypt from you.” This single verse provides much that we can learn from as we wander through the desert of life, and in particular as we live out our religious vocation as Dominicans.

First, notice that the Lord is the one “doing”: “Today, I have removed.” How easy is it for pride to enter into our lives, and so very hard for us to recall that it is God who has called us into this life, it is God who has called us to offer our lives to Him through our vows. While we may very much feel the effects of the slavery to sin, and desire greatly to leave the bondage of Egypt, it is the Lord who acts in the beginning. It is he who provides us the grace, giving us the strength through the power of the Spirit, to leave behind our sinful lives and pursue Him in a freedom and love no longer chained by sin.

In the second part of this verse, the Lord tells us what he has removed from us: the reproach of Egypt. What is this reproach of Egypt? Maybe in our life, the reproach is two-fold, and stems from our fallen selves and those parts of our lives that are still unredeemed either because we are unaware of them, or are unwilling to bring them to the Lord in repentance.

First, this reproach can be the material things that we still cling to with an inappropriate attachment. Egypt is behind us and we're walking in the desert, but what nice gold trinkets, what idols do we still cling to in the packs over our shoulders. Secondly, the reproach can be our fallen behavior towards one another, that lacking of perfection within ourselves that keeps us apart, and divided. We wander together through the wilderness, but do we grumble amongst ourselves and bicker with one another?

Finally, there is one thing that strikes me as incredibly applicable to our life here in community. God doesn't send the lone Israelite into the desert. He doesn't send Moses by himself to inherit the Promised Land: God sends a people, a community. We aren't just one lone set of footprints in the sand. No one is alone in this journey. It's not even just “God and me.” God has given us each other. If you lift up your heads and open your eyes to look across these choir stalls, you will see the people that God has brought into your life. These are the people that are here for you, and who you are here for. You cannot make it to the Promised Land by yourself, we need each other.

Instead of only making use of this image of the wandering Israelites once a year, it is something that we must keep within ourselves every day. Every day God gives us the grace to leave Egypt behind. Every day God pours out his graces upon us, to strengthen us, to bind our broken limbs and to make us whole. Every day we put to death those former selves that left Egypt, when we deny ourselves and seek after God with our whole heart. And every day God creates in us a new creation, like the children born in the desert, freed from the reproach of Egypt and finally prepared to enter into the Promised Land.