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One of the first things I noticed about the two healing accounts we encountered in our Gospel reading today, is the desperation of those who are seeking Jesus healing touch. Imagine those two scenes in your mind’s eye. First there’s the leader of the synagogue, bursting through the doors of the house where Jesus is sharing a meal with his friends, falling to his knees and practically begging Jesus to come with him to revive his recently expired daughter. And then, as Jesus heads out of the house with his entourage of disciples around him, a woman who for 12 long years has had the very life draining out of her. She reaches out to touch the fringe of the healer’s cloak, in her despair, believing that even if she can just brush her fingers across the sleeve of his robe or the hem of his garment, she will find release from her confinement.
I’m sure I noticed the desperation in these two individuals reaching out to Jesus, reaching out for the possibility that there is something or someone who can lift them and those they love out of their grave clothes and restore them to the fullness of life because I have known that desperation myself in the course of these last 12 months. Perhaps you ALSO recognize and know this kind of desperation yourself.
Last night our church Council met together on zoom. We began our meeting by acknowledging our one year anniversary of meeting together in this way. Over the course of this past year we have had to make an unending series of difficult decisions on zoom, decisions about keeping staff on or not keeping staff on for the duration of the pandemic, decisions about hiring summer students and an assistant Thrift Shop manager and a new office administrator when Cindy took her leave. We’ve made the decision to close down the Thrift Shop and then opened it up again. We’ve created and reviewed public health protocols, approved the purchase of gallons of disinfectant and hundreds of masks. We’ve given the green light to buy tents to accommodate outside sales. We’ve rescued tents that have blown over in the rain and collapsed under the weight of snow never having imagined that those tents would still be on our property months after the summer season had come and gone. We’ve agonized over in-person worship and the safety of our vulnerable volunteers, whether to bring people back into our space or keep them safe at home. Most recently we have attended to difficult choices about the use of space in our facility.
And, over the last 12 months, we as a council have also supported one another through depression and grief, through surgeries and a devastating fire that destroyed a family home. We’ve also sustained the death of one of our most beloved and committed council members.
This is our Covid-19 story in the same way that each of us as families and individuals and organizations has a story to tell about this last year of our lives. I can pretty much guarantee that without exception, those stories include moments of desperation, moments when we wondered if this would ever end, moments when we felt the life-blood drain out of us, moments when we wanted to curl up in bed, pull the covers over our heads and say “wake me up when we’re out the other end.”
The strange thing for me about last night’s one year covid anniversary Council meeting however was that it was also one of the most lighthearted meetings I can remember from this last year. Among other things we were able to laugh at our naitivite in recalling the moment when someone around the zoom table had said “don’t worry, this will all be over by the end of May.” Back then, we still had a picture of ourselves as people who could predict the future and maintain some level of control over our lives and the life of the church. A year later, broken and battered by the storms we have endured, we’re not quite so cocky anymore. Like the synagogue leader in today’s story, we have been brought down to our knees.
Over the years, scholars have pointed out a number of interesting details in the two healings portrayed in today’s scripture reading. On the one hand we have the desperation of the synagogue leader, a person of power and privilege, someone willing and able to advocate for his lifeless daughter. On the other hand we have the desperation of the woman with a hemorrhage who has no one to advocate for her and seems to go unnoticed in the crowd of followers that gather around Jesus.
The juxtaposition of these two individuals suggests that the writer of Matthew’s gospel is saying to us that rich or poor, privileged or disadvantaged, we all find ourselves in places of desperation. We all find ourselves in need of healing, and healing, in Jesus way of seeing things is not a top down arrangement. It is accessible to us all.
What might be less obvious to us on first read of these stories is that there is also something about them pointing us towards the promise that new life that is found through Jesus, resurrection, is new life available to each and to all. Resurrection is not just something that happens to Jesus it is something that can happen to each of us in the here and now.
The story of the revivification of the synagogue’s dead daughter is the only one found in Matthew’s gospel in which someone is brought back to life. The word that describes the healing of the woman with a hemorrhage is the same word used to describe Jesus saving nature in general. She is not just healed or made well, she is saved.
These are stories that say to us when all we can see in front of us in death, destruction and despair, there is a life-giving and life-saving presence in the world that we can access to bring us to life again. This is healing beyond physical healing. This is salvation beyond a vaccine.
This week our healing theme centers around intellectual and creative healing. We can probably all recognize times in our lives in general and particularly this last year when our creativity and our capacity for coming up with new ideas has waned. There have surely been times this year when our capacity to imagine a different reality or picture a different future has been inaccessible to us. Perhaps you, like me, have had moments when you’ve stopped daring to dream what might be because you were just trying to get through the next few days or hours or weeks. Perhaps you like me have wearied of adapting and pivoting.
Sometimes it can feel impossible to imagine that we might emerge with new life, with vigor and creativity in these exhausting times, but in the cycle of life and death and life beyond death, we are always being called into fuller and more abundant life. In this season of recovery, we might want to ask ourselves what is being reawakened in us as we begin to emerge from the pandemic? What is being awakened in our communities? Where is there energy? What is being saved? What is being brought forward in you or in our world?
In our Meeting the Beloved group that has been meeting since September, we have a weekly practice that can also be done as a daily practice. We ask ourselves what has been life-giving or joyful for us this week? And then we ask what has been challenging or life-draining? It’s a way for us to discern the places in our lives where the Spirit is most alive and the places we need to ask for Spirits presence to bring us into fuller life. Sometimes that’s about reaching out for more of what gives us life. Sometimes it’s about leaving behind what’s been holding us back.
The other day I had a conversation with a friend of mine, a counsellor, who was keen to tell me what has reignited her energy and passion for life these last several weeks. A couple months ago she met with a life coach who had volunteered his services to her. After looking over her work schedule and seeing the many ways she was giving herself to those she serves, he asked her when she made time in her life for joy. She realized that between her professional life and her personal life, she wasn’t making anytime for joy. And then she remembered a long forgotten dream. She’d always wanted to learn how to draw, she’d always pictured herself as an artist but never had the time or made the time to become one. So she went to the library and took out some books and googled “how to draw” and all of the sudden, she is having the time of her life. Her creative energy has been unleashed and she has been awakened to a possibility she had given up on imagining. Suddenly, she is picturing herself in a different way.
Last night at our council meeting in addition to marking the one-year anniversary of the pandemic and acknowledging the desperation that from time to time we have experienced this last year, we talked about where we are in the season of individual lives and our collective life together as we enter the second year of Covid-19. Words like season of healing and learning, time of building and birth were spoken.
We realized that as we emerge from the wreckage of the last year of our lives, we are seeing ourselves in a different light, picturing our future in a different way. The images are good, the dreams are hopeful and through it all runs the promise of new life.
The story of the two healings we have from our Gospel today show us two avenues to healing. There are times when, like the synagogue leader we are called to reach out and advocate for healing for others. And there are times when we need to be bold enough to reach out, and perhaps more accurately, to reach in to touch the sacred power that is longing for our healing, as much if not more, as we are longing for new life. Amen.