Lent 3 C ~ "Holy Ground" ~Susan McGurgan


A young Ukrainian violinist,

standing alone in a basement in Kyiv,

plays a haunting arrangement

of an old Ukrainian folk song,

filming himself between bomb explosions.


His music soars beyond scarred concrete walls,

storage shelves,

rusty pipes;

above hatred,

violence,

and war.

I cannot see his feet,

but I know he is standing on Holy Ground.


In the harsh light of a hospital room,

a man nods in vigil

beside a silent figure and a beeping machine.

He would pray,

but words come hard at 2 am.


He clasps a frail hand,

gently avoiding the IV line

that snakes from her arm to the bag of chemicals

hanging nearby.

His feet,

carefully tucked beneath the mechanical bed,

are firmly planted on Holy Ground.


On a suburban playground

where the wounds cut deep

and scars formed here can last a lifetime,

a third-grade girl confronts two classmates

bullying her friend.


Like an avenging angel,

she races toward the swing set—

70 pounds of righteous justice,

launched into overdrive.

Through scuffed sneakers

and lace ankle socks,

she stakes a claim to Holy Ground.


Experts remind us that the phrase,

“Standing on Holy Ground”

occurs only three times in scripture:

once here with Moses at the burning bush,

later referenced in Acts,

and again when Joshua

brought the Israelites across the Jordan River to Jericho.


This invites us to consider

whether “standing on Holy Ground”

might be something extraordinary;

something unusual;

something exclusive and singular and rare.

And perhaps that is true

when it comes to a direct encounter with God.

Hearing God’s voice

emerge from a burning bush

or echo from Mount Sinai;

being knocked off a horse on the road to Damascus;

witnessing the Transfiguration--

These theophanies,

these visible manifestations of God,

are overwhelming and extraordinary events

that most of us will never experience,

no matter how strong our faith.


But if “Holy Ground”

signifies those places where God’s presence

overflows;

those places marked

by God’s fingerprints

and claimed by God’s promise--

then how can we move an inch in any direction

without crashing into them?


Holy Ground surrounds us.

It lies under our feet and over our heads.

It is the air that we breathe

and the water we drink

and the soil we shake off our shoes.


Perhaps Holy Ground feels rare

because we are so seldom aware of the

miracles of God around us.


Elizabeth Barrett Browning once wrote:

Earth’s crammed with heaven,

And every common bush afire with God;

But only he who sees takes off his shoes;

The rest sit round it and pluck blackberries.


A bombed-out basement in Kyiv,

a lonely hospital room,

an asphalt playground at recess--

to see “earth crammed with heaven”,

and claim these spaces as holy,

we must strip away our pretense

and take off our shoes.

We must dismantle the barriers we place

between ourselves

and the sacred—

our pride,

our greed,

our grasping for power,

our sin,

our fear

our noise.


Recognizing Holy Ground means we look deeper

and walk slower,

perhaps taking a different route home.

As Moses said,

“I will now turn aside and see this great sight”


Recognizing Holy Ground

is not for the faint of heart.

It will change us,

just as it changed Moses,

just as it changed Abraham,

as it changed Mary

and Mother Teresa

and Stanley Rother

and Maximillian Kolbe.

It will put us in dangerous places

and demand we respond.

Holy ground

is not a safe and comfortable resting place,

it is rocket fuel,

launching us into new ventures,

new visions,

new ways to risk and love and serve.


Maybe it is true that Holy Ground moments

are rare.

But maybe,

just maybe,

we are all out picking blackberries

when we should be fastening our seatbelts

and unlacing our shoes.

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