Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Dying for Holiness?

A holy water container (stoup) at the church
Santa Maria degli AngeliRome
A stampede in Ghana recently left four people dead after thousands swarmed a church said to be offering holy water with healing properties.

The commotion occurred at the Ghana branch of the Synagogue Church of All Nations, Ghana Business News reported. The head pastor of the church had been sending out repackaged holy water to branches of the church across the globe, an initiative he announced earlier in May. A number of church members in Accra, the capital, had lined up since Saturday night in hopes of gaining access to the anointed water on Sunday morning, and the church was supposedly at full capacity by 8: 30 p.m. Read more here.

I am startled by such a violent ending to an occasion that was intended to bring blessings. Intrigued by the pandemonium, I researched "holy water" and found this brief primer:

Holy water, in the Eastern Christian churches and the Roman Catholic Church, is special water that has been blessed and is used to bless churches, homes, and articles of devotion. A natural symbol of purification, water has been used by religious peoples, both primitive and advanced, as a means of removing uncleanness, either ritual or moral. In the early Christian community the “living” water of rivers and streams was preferred for Baptism and apparently received no special blessing. By the time of the 4th century the still waters of the baptismal font or pool were exorcised and blessed with the sign of the cross. Other water was blessed for the use of the faithful as a means of warding off the unclean spirit and as a safeguard against sickness and disease. In the course of time, this blessed, or holy, water was used as a reminder of Baptism by the faithful on entering the church and by the celebrant in sprinkling the congregation before the Sunday mass.

A Desperate Desire for Holiness

I can't help but notice these futile attempts to purify ourselves. It has been this way throughout the ages. We look to others or ourselves that we might be rescued from our bodies of death. We instinctively know something is wrong. We are filthy. Although we look good on the outside there are all sorts of evil doings on the inside. We are daily haunted by murmurings of our flesh and the devil. The Bible reminds us "There is no one righteous, no not one." We long to be clean, to be pronounced "holy".

"Take home" holy water at
St Teresa's church, 
The story of those poor weary and worn out men and women searching for something to relieve their pain is tragic beyond words. However, their desire for a rescue is no different than ours. We search in a thousand different places for the "thing" that will heal us, grant us peace and give us life. We rely on therapy, counseling, entertainment and relationships to cover our fears and scars. We may think we would never rely on water (after all it's only from the tap) to make us feel better, but we place our hope in hundreds of other self-salvation projects.

Trying to make ourselves holy is admirable. After all, the LORD spoke to Moses, saying: 

“Speak to all the congregation of the people of Israel and say to them, You shall be holy, for I the LORD your God am holy. Lev 19:1-2

A seeking after holiness is commanded in the Bible. Holiness is pure and right. The problem is not with holiness or even the desire for it. The problem is where we look for it. Regardless of how beautiful the container is, holy water is still just that - water. A prayer prayed over water does not make it magical. Water called "holy" cannot perform miracles. In addition, repeated attempts to find holiness from others or from ourselves always come up short.We are looking for holy from unholy people! I am reminded of this passage in Isaiah: 

"He plants a cedar and the rain nourishes it. Then it becomes fuel for a man. He takes a part of it and warms himself; he kindles a fire and bakes bread. Also he makes a god and worships it; he makes it an idol and falls down before it. Half of it he burns in the fire. Over the half he eats meat; he roasts it and is satisfied. Also he warms himself and says, “Aha, I am warm, I have seen the fire!” And the rest of it he makes into a god, his idol, and falls down to it and worships it. He prays to it and says, “Deliver me, for you are my god!” Is 44:14-17

We are looking to what has no power to save. In desperation we cry out with Paul "Who will rescue me from this body of death?"

When the cry of our hearts scream for holiness, purity, cleansing and forgiveness, we can turn turn to the garment of Another to dry our tears. From the cross Jesus cried out for you and for me "Father forgive them". In one violent act Jesus rescues those who are perishing.

There is Only One Holy

There is only one source for holiness. Put on the Lord Jesus. Put on Christ. Apart from him there is no other stream. The poor souls of those needful ones in Ghana were so ravaged by fear that they sought for the point of death.
And yet, there is One who was so ravaged by love he sought for the the point of death.

"For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes." Romans 1:16

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