Sermon prepared for Wesley United Montreal’s Sunday morning service on July 1, 2018 (Year B, Proper 8, Mark 5:21-43 and Lamentations 3:22-33).
Have you ever stood in a crowd of people and thought to yourself, I feel invisible?
That’s how I imagine the woman, in the Gospel story from today, felt. Surrounded by a huge crowd, she walked along behind Jesus as he spoke with one of the synagogue leaders.
There were so many people—more important than her.
I imagine that she didn’t just feel invisible, that she also felt no one in the world understood her. Her pain. Her desperation.
Mark tells us that this unnamed woman had been suffering for twelve years. Twelve years of chronic pain.
Mark tells us she had exhausted all her resources by consulting physician after physician and nothing could relieve her pain. Instead, it got worse.
She was destitute, a burden in a society with no social safety net. And, she was only a shadow of a woman, in a world that focused so heavily on childbearing.
She had no dignity because she couldn’t fulfil the expectations society had for her, and she was suffering in an unspeakable way. Her sickness was more than physical—she was suffering from broken relationships, and social isolation.
I wonder… did she get lost in the crowd, or did she hide there? Because carrying shame makes us wish we were really invisible.
When she reaches out she is reaching for her own healing—and what a wonderful image of our God this is because Mark tells us how that reaching is honoured.
She takes a risk and reaches out, and suddenly she feels a shift in her body. Something is changing.
Yes, by touching the hem of Jesus’ cloak she is healed physically, but he offers her so much more when Jesus turns back towards her.
“Who touched me?”
Trembling, but brave, she owns up. Can you imagine how hard that must be? Did everything in her scream:
Why did you do that? You took what you didn’t deserve! You never should have bothered. He’ll be angry with you! Know your place!
Trembling, but brave, she falls down and confesses to him.
Now, Jesus doesn’t just allow her to take her healing; he also turns to her and recognizes her as a “daughter”. He invites her into relationship; he honours her and holds her up in a crowd jostling for his attention.
He says, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.” Now, everyone will know the change she felt inside herself.
Jesus stops on his way to the house of an elite member of the community, a spiritual and political leader, and says (despite Jairus’ protests) that this daughter is worthy of his time and attention.
She takes her physical healing for herself, but he offers her so much more—he offers her restoration.
Jairus’ daughter, the second one to be healed in this section, is twelve years old. She was filled with life which was abruptly lost. The older woman has been lifeless for twelve years and is now filled with life.
These parallel healing stories tell us that Jesus is reversing the world around him—the Gospel shows him as having power over the forces of life and death.
In the section immediately before this one, we see demons calling out to him by name: Jesus, Son of the Most High God. Mark presents us with a series of stories about a powerful man who commands spirits, heals illnesses by mere touch, and commands the dead to awake.
Yet, these acts of power are always personal—they are always based in the restoration of relationship—and the reinstating of the sufferer in the wider community.
Healing is so much more than just caring for the body.
Even when a cure is not possible, healing always is. Jesus shows us new balms for wounded souls.
Lamentations, too, offers us this assurance. That, God, is steadfast in loving-kindness; God’s mercies are daily, renewed over and over again. It speaks of seasons of suffering and joy, and that grief is always accompanied by compassion.
For, God “he does not willingly afflict or grieve anyone.”
This is not a promise that you will not face difficulties in your life. By now we know, so much of the human condition is spent in discomfort.
Yet, there is a voice in our spiritual tradition that says: God is the giver of every good and perfect gift; a parent doesn’t give their child a snake when they ask for bread.
Viktor Frankl, Holocaust survivor and psychologist, wrote in his seminal work Man’s Search for Meaning that:
“In some ways suffering ceases to be suffering at the moment it finds a meaning, such as the meaning of a sacrifice.”
The Book of Lamentations, which our assurance comes from, is the texts of a community on a desperate search for meaning in a senseless world of violence. It is written by Ancient Jewish peoples in Babylon following a devastating experience of war and exile. This poetry is their attempt to understand the “why”.
Yet, even in that pursuit, they write of God’s goodness, God’s compassion, and mercy.
This text is their mourning and healing—a process of coming to terms with their communal pain.
It echoes the story of the woman who touched Jesus’ cloak by saying: Even when a reversal of fortunes is not possible, healing always is.
God wants to meet each of us in our suffering—God sees us and hears us.
God extends an invitation to restoration, inviting us into the kinship of God.
It is an invitation to find meaning in our life stories and to receive healing.
But, God doesn’t just come to us—it is an invitation we have to accept. Because, Jesus didn’t look around for people to heal, instead he responded those who cry out to him; follow him and his disciples around causing a disruption; people who cut holes in roofs to get into see him; or slip through crowds to grab onto his cloak.
God wants us to reach out for our own healing as active participants—knowing we are worthy of it. We reach out in trust and expectation, that transformation awaits us—though it often takes place in the ways we least expect it.
I wonder if there is something you’ve been carrying for twelve proverbial years, that you need healing for. During our Prayers of the People we’ll be focusing on prayers of healing and restoration, so I invite you to consider whether it’s time for you to reach out for your own experience of restoration.
Be emboldened, knowing that God’s steadfast compassion is offered to us each day—an unfailing testament to God’s love for us.