The Rev. John Allison
June 27, 2021
Christ Church, Hudson
I remember very clearly when I first heard our reading from Mark’s Gospel—really heard it. I say REALLY heard it because I had read it for several years in the regular course of the lectionary but it wasn’t until a particular Sunday when I was in the congregation at my church when I really heard it, began to understand in deeper way. This was long before I was ordained. I was in my pew and near me was a boy of about 12 years old, about the same age as the little girl Jesus brings back to life. This boy, Charlie, had struggled physically with illness for several years and had had many obstacles to overcome in his short life, some of which would be with him throughout his life. As the Gospel procession made its way down the aisle and as we all turned to follow it I found Charlie directly in my line of sight. As the priest began to read and the details of the story built, first the healing of the woman and finally the little girl being raised to life, I could see Charlie’s face. His expression was of joy and wonder, of hope and expectation. It wasn’t just another healing story to him. He knew what it was to suffer and he knew what it meant to desperately want to be healed. He saw the possibility of wholeness in Christ and felt the joy of that promise. It was in seeing his response, in seeing his recognition of the miracle of Jesus’s love, of hope grounded in that love, that I was able to really begin to hear this story of healing. It was also then that I became acutely aware that I lacked that kind hope. Had someone been watching my face at the reading of this story what would they have seen? Ambivalence? Skepticism? Resignation? Boredom? I can’t really say, except to know that I hadn’t yet learned to embrace the wonder and joy that so enthralled Charlie.
All of us, by virtue of our humanity, know on some level what it is to suffer, whether it be in body or mind or spirit. We know pain, loss, disappointment, despair. The suffering may be personal to us or perhaps within our family or community. Sometimes, often perhaps, those feelings lead us to a kind of hopeless resignation. Things will never get better. Healing seems like such a distant promise that we dare not even ask: “Why trouble the teacher any further?” What we sometimes forget is that this suffering is not our natural state. Such feelings are not an end to which we are condemned. We are creatures made in the image of God, and it’s the restoration of that image to which we are called. It’s the restoration of wholeness and life that is our end. That is the Good News that Jesus brings to a broken world, but sometimes we don’t hear it. Or sometimes there is too much in our lives to be able to really hear and receive it—to really believe it. For me, that Sunday so many years ago when I heard this story through different ears, saw the joy registered on the face of this young boy in my church, I finally began to listen.
Mark’s Gospel shows us two individuals who have great need. First is Jairus, a leader in the synagogue and thus presumably one who has a certain amount of stature in the community. His young daughter, twelve years old, is very ill and near death. We are told that he falls at Jesus’s feet and begs him to go to her. It’s important to recognize that, even though in Mark’s Gospel Jesus has already performed some miracles and healings, he was generally despised by the temple authorities. For Jairus to fall at Jesus’s feet and beg him would have been quite unusual, so Jairus was moved by something much larger than his own pride. The love for his daughter was certainly a motivating factor, but I suspect Jairus was moved by something more, maybe something he couldn’t at that point name but that nonetheless stirred in him a recognition of his yearning for restoration, for the promise of God’s love in Jesus.
The woman also was desperate. She had been suffering for twelve years. Her life had been ruined by illness. She had been to doctor after doctor and spent all of her savings. Because of her illness she would have been considered ritually unclean and had to live on the margins of society. And yet, in Jesus, she recognized a promise of healing, of wholeness, of restoration, and in that recognition she reaches out to claim her healing by simply touching the hem of his cloak. Jesus feels this, knows that she has touched him, even in the midst of a large bustling crowd. Mark says, he was “aware that power had gone forth from him.” I think maybe he felt her need, her desperation. Never mind that she was ritually unclean and that Jesus’s contact with her would have been prohibited under the law; as we’ve already seen and will see more, Jesus is not one to let social boundaries be a barrier to God’s love.
By the time Jesus gets on his way to Jairus’s daughter he is told the little girl has already died. There is no hope, no point in even going, says the crowd: why trouble the teacher any further? Jesus says, “Do not fear, only believe.” Do not fear, only believe. And we know what happens next. Jesus goes to the child and takes her hand, which again would have violated the purity laws—one was not to touch a corpse—and says simply, little girl, get up. And she rises and begins to walk. Of course, everyone is amazed, but his final words in the wake of this miracle are interesting: he tells them to give her something to eat.
Each of us, in our trust in Jesus, is raised to new life in Christ. All through Easter I preached about living in the Resurrection, about being raised to new life with Christ, and here we see a kind of prefiguring of that. In Christ, in our faith in him, our belief, we are raised to new life. He raises us up and then he feeds us; that’s what happens right here at this table. He takes us by the hand, and we rise and are fed at his table. This is the Eucharist, the Great Thanksgiving that we share right here.
As I continue to reflect on that day when I first REALLY HEARD this Gospel and remember that expression on Charlie’s face, I think he already knew all this. The joy and delight that radiated from his face that day wasn’t just hope for himself and a pain-free future. No. There was a knowing behind his smile. Even in his suffering and struggle he had come to know Jesus, to know his love and find wholeness and peace in him. He had been healed. There was still pain and suffering, for sure, but he had been raised with Christ and nothing was the same. That’s the restoration that I (we) yearn for—desperately. The Psalmist says it for us today: “Out of the depths have I called to you, O Lord . . . My soul waits for the Lord, more than watchmen for the morning, more than watchmen for the morning.” We each have our own very particular depth from which we call, our own very particular kind of suffering, and it’s in naming our pain, in naming those limits that impinge on our lives, in lamenting, that we begin to open a place in ourselves for something new. It’s here we begin to live into what one theologian calls “reasonable hope,” a hope that acknowledges doubt and despair but at the same time can envision a path toward a future beyond the doubt and despair. It’s in trusting that God is opening that path that we begin to heal. We have that promise in Christ and it is in saying yes to it that our lives are restored. This is the love that is stronger than fear. This is the love that allows us to fear not but only believe. Amen.