Holy Communion Hadlow
28 June 2015
2 Samuel 1.1, 17 -end; Mark 5.21-end
May I speak this morning in the name of God + Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.
As a Vicar I mostly see you, the worshipping community, here in church on a Sunday. Of course I also see some of you at various committee meetings or at Wednesday morning communion or even at morning prayer. And, believe me, it is a source of constant joy being able to worship with you, my brothers and sisters in Christ here week by week.
But, of course, being a Vicar is about much more than just being a chaplain to a worshipping community, as lovely as you are. Throughout the week I see lots of other people in lots of other situations most of whom are no more than the most nominal of practicing Christians, if even that.
A conversation that I find myself having in those encounters, more frequently than you might imagine, goes a little like this:
“The type of people who go to church are good, upright, honest, decent people, pillars of the local community whereas I am none of those things. How could I possibly come to church and be surrounded by all those good people who would probably look down on me and judge me.”
Of course I respond: “Good, upright, honest, decent people – have you actually been to St Mary’s?”
But there is a very serious point here – putting aside entirely for a moment issues of faith or lack of faith – if the conversations I have are anything to go by lots of people are put off coming to church because they don’t feel good enough to be here.
How on earth has the church of Jesus Christ got itself into that situation? We believe in a God who was born into danger and poverty, who spent his ministry railing against the establishment and ministering amongst the outcasts of society, who came to reconcile the disenfranchised with a God they could call Father and who died the death of a criminal amongst criminals.
And yet, somehow, we have taken that radical establishment-shaking mission and turned it and ourselves into the establishment, so much so that many of the people closest to Jesus’ own heart don’t feel good enough to be here with us.
In the BCP communion service there are some wonderful introductory sentences and one of my favourites is this:
“Hear also what St Paul saith: This is a true saying, and worthy of all men to be received, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.”
Christ Jesus didn’t come into the world to make the good feel good about themselves but he came to save sinners – to bring home those who felt furthest from God either because of their own poor choices or because of afflictions or characteristics which made them unacceptable to the decent folk.
For me the heart of the gospel message is about healing – restoring wholeness where there was brokenness, forgiving those who have most to forgive, bringing home to lost and the lonely and loving the unlovable.
I am sure that everyone here saw the terrible news story from last week of the mass shooting in the Methodist church in Charleston. The most amazing thing to come out of that terrible situation was a clip I saw on the news just a few days later. The shooter appeared in court and the families of the victims were given an opportunity to speak to him in court. Bearing in mind his crimes were apparently committed out of hate and racism the families spoke to him words of love and forgiveness. I don’t know how much impact they had on the boy but they certainly had an impact on me and around the world.
That was the gospel in action – letting people know that no matter how great their sin, no matter how bad they have been or how bad they may think they are – that God still loves them and forgives them and wants nothing more than to be reconciled with them and if that is what God wants then that is what we as his followers should want too, with every fibre of our being.
And today’s gospel readings speak to me very clearly of God’s amazing healing, reconciling, powers reaching out beyond the bounds of what decent folk may find acceptable.
Today we have two stories of healing, Jairus’s daughter and the women with the hemorrhage. These stories are sandwiched together by Mark and, although different, they contain some interesting connections.
It could only have been desperation that drove a leader of the synagogue to kneel so publicly before a teacher already under surveillance. I am put in mind the father in the story of the prodigal son who put aside all dignity when he ran to greet his returning son. In this case, of course, all dignity is put aside because we have a father who is in the last chance saloon and who is pleading for the life of his little child. As a church leader and the father of a 12 year old daughter I am feeling quite a lot of empathy for Jairus here.
As they set off for the house of Jairus, the woman with the continual bleeding – anonymous in the following and pressing crowd – manages to get close to Jesus. She is taking a risk, by doing something the law forbids: touching him, although her perpetual bleeding makes her ritually unclean. She was as desperate as Jairus, having spent all her money trying to be healed and now she was hoping against hope that if she can just reach out and touch this healer that she, too, will be healed.
Meanwhile, the child’s death is announced. Jesus’s response to one human cry has been interrupted to respond to another, even more immediate. He could have made no comment on the sensation of power going out of him, and hastened on, knowing that the person who had touched him was healed. Instead, he wanted a face-to-face encounter and, when it came, he addressed the woman as “Daughter”. After all this time, someone had acknowledged her in love rather than contempt.
Despite being told that Jairus’ little girl has died Jesus does not give up but continues to the house. Only Peter, James, and John accompany Jesus into the house of Jairus- as they will at two further critical points: the transfiguration, and the final time of prayer in Gethsemane . This is their first opportunity to grasp that Jesus can bring life out of death, and it is underlined by the use in Greek of resurrection language: “Get up!” (Mark 5.4.1-42). Interestingly Jesus’ use of Aramaic is also used here: “Talitha koum.” I don’t know about you but I think that sounds beautiful – much nicer than “little girl, get up” – Talitha koum.
Although offered as an aside, the child’s age is mentioned for a purpose. Her lifetime of 12 years has been the same as the duration of the woman’s illness. The number 12 is often used in the gospels to symbolize the 12 tribes of Israel. On one level we have powerful and dramatic stories of healing but perhaps on another the writer is saying that Jesus can heal the uncleanliness not only of this woman but of all Israel, or even restore life when everything looks lost and hopeless.
It may also be interesting to reflect that the woman’s blood made her ritually unclean and yet Jesus shed and shares his blood to make us clean.
Both the women who was healed and Jarius’s child are daughters, and a couple of years later they may find themselves among the weeping “daughters of Jerusalem” who line the road to Golgotha. For Mark, they are already daughters of the new Jerusalem.
And for me the message is clear – the ministry of Jesus was most powerful for those who were most desperate and who probably felt the furthest from God. We need to let those people in this village know that this church is for them, that we are for them, that Jesus is for them. Amen.