Sleep is a wonderful thing for living beings. It renews and refreshes us, and enables to take on the day ahead. For those who are sick, sleep helps the healing process. Very often my chiropractor will ask me if I’m getting enough sleep (which is usually “no”). In the spiritual life, God often works in sleep to give us the encouragement of the Holy Spirit, good ideas or solutions to problems, and sometimes even a vision of what lies ahead. Most notably, Saint Joseph is recorded in the Gospels as receiving encouragement, direction, and command from God. Sleep is really important to us in so many ways.
Sleep can also be a problem. Many of us don’t get enough sleep: we are kept awake by worries, or active minds, or medical problems. We might also be spending too much time in front of the television or some other electronic devices. Sometimes sleep is rather elusive. For others, sleep can be an overindulgence. There is such a thing as too much sleep, which is often occasioned by depression, anxiety, or other medical issues. Balance is good in sleep as in most things, but balance is often tough to attain.
Sleep can often have the connotation of laziness or apathy or procrastination. Some of the psalms even ask if God is sleeping when the Psalmist doesn’t see an answer to his prayers. Of course, God is never sleeping, it’s always our perception. But sometimes people come across as sleepy: not attending to their duties or overlooking problems. And when this kind of sleepiness gets in the way of important issues, we might be tempted to yell “WAKE UP!”
I think those two words – WAKE UP – sum up what we are being told today in our Liturgy of the Word. There is a lot of waking up going on: Abram falls into a deep trance and is enveloped in terrifying darkness, he then wakes up to see God ratifying the covenant. The disciples on the mountain have fallen asleep as Jesus prayed, and they wake up to see our Transfigured Lord conversing with Moses and Isaiah – symbols of the Law and the Prophets.
We too are called to wake up. We too have once been enveloped in a terrifying darkness. The light of the Gospel and the joy of the sacraments banishes that darkness, if we but move forward in faith. The problem is that so many times we get dragged back into that darkness. It’s so easy to return to sinful ways, bad habits, patterns of brokenness, the shame of addiction. We want what we don’t need. We seek easy answers rather than work through the tough times. We make Gods out of success, and money, and pleasure, rather than honor the God who compassions us through failure, poverty and pain. We see to all our own creature comforts with little regard for the poor, oppressed and marginalized. We return over and over and over again to the terrifying darkness of sin in thought, word, and deed. Lent reminds us that we cannot survive living that way. We must confess our sins and wake up to be children of light.
Waking up to the call of God in our lives, we are called to be light to others. We have to be willing then to inconvenience ourselves for the sake of the Kingdom of God. God’s compassion has been poured out on us so that we can then be compassionate to others. That compassion demands that we have concern for every person God puts in our path, that we take time out of our busy and hectic schedules to listen to a hurting coworker or look in on a sick neighbor. God’s love has been poured out on us so that we can love as he has loved us. That love demands that we discipline children with patience, that we honor and respect our parents, that we go the extra mile to share the gifts we have been given. We must wake up to live as God’s people.
Today we are anointing the sick at Mass, and we will do that right after the homily. The anointing helps us to be transfigured in a way, to receive the healing power of God in Jesus’ name. This sacrament may or may not affect a physical healing, but it will always give us spiritual grace to experience the presence of our Lord in the journey of illness. Today, we invite all those who are ill to come forward for the anointing. This is not a general anointing of everyone, and it’s not necessarily for minor illnesses or injury. The anointing of the sick is for those who are seriously or chronically ill, or who are preparing for necessary surgery to affect some type of healing. Those whose health is failing due to age should also be anointed. As we wait for those who come forward to be anointed, the rest of us should offer prayers for their healing.
When those of you who are wanting to be anointed come forward, we will anoint you on your forehead and the palms of your hands, so please have your hands out and palms up as you approach us. Please know of this community’s ongoing prayers for you in your illness.
We are a people who have been given so much. God has reached out to us in great love and mercy and has taken the initiative to form a covenant with us, first with the sacrifice of Abraham, and in the last days through the blood of Jesus, poured out on the altar of the Cross. That sacrifice has healed all of us of our sins and has opened the pathway for new life and vigor in the kingdom of heaven. We deserve none of this, because we as a people and as individuals have turned away from God over and over again. But over and over again, God has sung to our spirit, giving us grace, and called us to be sons and daughters of light. But we have to wake up and receive it.