Today we can easily become paralysed by a sense that there is nothing we can do in the face of so much suffering, such lack of love and justice in man’s relation with man, but the Cross of Christ stands at the heart of it all, and the prayer of Christ, now as always is the answer to man’s need.
Our society has got rather caught up with the cult of the individual, and while matters of healing and salvation have been seen as individual matters, they are best understood as community affairs: what affects us affects our family, our friends, and community, as we do not live in isolation, likewise Christ’s healing love is poured out on individuals who are part of a community. Likewise the church is to be a place of healing and love, for individuals, and for the community.
Given the events of the last few days it is impossible for us not to describe our world as one in need of healing. Our human proclivity for violence seems as strong as ever, which reminds us that when things are left up to ourselves they don’t always end well. We need some help, and that can only come from God.
St Antony the Great once said ‘Our life and our death is with our neighbour. If we win our brother, we win God. If we cause our brother to stumble, we have sinned against Christ.’ In the words of Rowan Williams:
‘Winning the brother or sister isn’t – in the perspective of St Antony – a matter of getting them signed up to something, getting them on your side, but opening doors for them to God’s healing. If you open such doors, you ‘win’ God, because you become a place where God ‘happens’ for someone else, where God comes to life for someone in a new and life- giving way – not because you are good and wonderful but because you have allowed the wonder and goodness of God to appear (and you may have no idea how). When we shift our preoccupations, anxiety and selfishness out of the way and some space appears for God, we ourselves are brought in touch with God’s healing. And so, in winning the brother and sister, we win God.’
This morning’s Gospel is concerned with healing, that of Jairus’ daughter and the woman with a haemorrhage. They show us the power of God to heal and restore humanity, which points to the Cross which is the greatest place of healing, where Christ bears our sins: for by his wounds we are healed, we are washed in his blood, healed and restored to new life in Him. Christ who was rich, for our sake made himself poor, so that we might become rich by his poverty. Likewise he gives himself under the outward forms of bread and wine, so that we can be healed by Him. Unlike the physicians who have taken all of the woman’s money and not made her better but worse; Christ’s healing is free. The woman is afraid, but Christ does not want to single her out, but rather is conscious that someone is in need of healing, hence his words: ‘Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.’ She has faith: she believes that simply by touching his clothes, by being close to Jesus, that she can be healed. Likewise Jairus, a well-known pillar of the community, who sits at the front of the synagogue, falls at Jesus’ feet and begs him repeatedly: here is a desperate man, whose concern is not for his own station, but rather that his daughter may be made well and live. He comes to Jesus, who raises his daughter, who restores her to health and life. Jairus is humble; he knows his need of God.
We, too, know that we need God’s healing, in our lives and in the world around us. We need to come to Jesus, so that we can be healed by Him, and restored by Him, to have life and life in all its fullness. We are given a foretaste of it here, this morning, in the Sacrament of His Body and Blood, given to us so that we might be healed, body and soul, and given a foretaste of eternal life in Christ.
Let us come to him, so that we too might be healed and restored by him, so that we might be built up in love, and our families and communities too might be healed and restored, living life in all its fullness – this is what Christ comes to bring to a world in need of healing. Let us come to him, so that we might be built up in love, so that the Kingdom may grow, so that we can invite others so share in God’s gift of his healing love, so that ransomed, healed, restored, and forgiven by him, through Christ’s saving death, we may sing the praises of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, to whom be ascribed, as is most right and just, all might, majesty, glory, dominion, and power, now and forever.
Abba Poemen said, ‘There is no greater love than that a man lays down his life for his neighbour. When you hear someone complaining and you struggle with yourself and do not answer him back with complaints; when you are hurt and bear it patiently, not looking for revenge; then you are laying down your life for your neighbour.’
When Abba Apollo heard the sound of singing from the monks who welcomed us, he greeted us according to the custom which all monks follow … he first lay prostrate on the ground, then got up and kissed us and having brought us in he prayed for us; then after washing our feet with his own hands, he invited us to partake of some refreshment…
One could see his monks were filled with joy and a bodily contentment such as one cannot see on earth. For nobody among them was gloomy or downcast. If anyone did appear a little downcast, Abba Apollo at once asked him the reason and told each one what was in the secret recesses of his heart. He used to say ‘Those who are going to inherit the Kingdom of heaven must not be despondent about their salvation … we who have been considered worthy of so great a hope, how shall we not rejoice without ceasing, since the Apostle urges us always, “Pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks”?’
The community founded here by St David was a monastic community, which looked to the Desert Fathers and Mothers of Egypt and the Levant as their source and inspiration: as it was here that through prayer, the recitation of the Psalms and of the reading of Holy Scripture that their common life was formed. There is a little bit of the Egyptian desert here at least in spirit. There are those who would wish to characterise Christianity in general and monasticism in particular in negative terms, as gloomy, focussing on what one cannot do, and yet when we consider the parting advice of St David to his followers, he began with ‘Byddwch llawen’ ‘Be joyful’ just like the Desert Fathers quoted earlier. The Christian vocation then is one of JOY, we are to be joyful Christians, joyful in the knowledge that God loves us, that God died and rose again for us. To have the humility to accept the fact that God loves us, not because we are loveable but so that we might become so, requires that we circumcise the foreskin of our heart, or perhaps more literally ‘cut away, therefore, the thickening about your hearts and stiffen your necks no more’ (JPS Tanakh). The advice given in Deuteronomy 10-11 has at its heart the gentleness and generosity which lies at the heart of the Christian faith, in the same way that St Paul despite many trials and tribulations en route to his eventual execution in Rome remains joyful and generous.
This is how we live out our faith in our lives, not jealously guarding our faith as some treasured possession too precious to be sullied or shared, but by recognising that such things were given to us freely, and so should be likewise shared freely. We can be serious, as after all there are souls at stake, it is a serious business, but not so much that our seriousness of purpose and resolve should ever overshadow the generosity and joy inherent in our loving God and our neighbour.
The Christian life may be many things but it is certainly rarely easy, which is why it needs to lived together by a community of faith, so that we can support each other when times are tough, as St Antony the Great said: ‘Our life and our death is with our neighbour. If we win our brother, we win God. If we cause our brother to stumble, we have sinned against Christ.’ How we support each other is how we live out our faith in our lives, and how we as Christians convert others – actions speak louder than words – and if our faith affects who we are and what we do and how and why we do it then it will be attractive, it cannot fail to be – hence the need for joy, given that one may catch more flies with honey than vinegar. It is the joy of being loved by a God whose service is perfect freedom. This is the pearl of great price, and the heart of the Gospel, so let us live it together in love.
A monk was asked, ‘What is humility?’ and he said in reply, ‘Humility is a great work, and a work of God. The way of humility is to undertake bodily labour and believe yourself a sinner and make yourself subject to all.’ Then a brother said, ‘What does it mean to be subject to all?’ The monk replied, ‘To be subject to all is not to give your attention to the sins of others but always to give your attention to your own sins and pray without ceasing to God.’
There was an old man living in the desert who served God for many years and he said, ‘Lord, let me know if I have pleased you.’ He saw an angel who said to him, ‘You have not yet become like the gardener in such and such a place.’ The old man marvelled and said, ‘I will go off to the city to see both him and what he does that surpasses all my work and the toil of these years…’
So he went to the city and asked the gardener about his way of life … When they were getting ready to eat in the evening, the old man heard people in the streets singing songs, for the cell of the gardener was in a public place. Therefore the old man said to him, ‘Brother, wanting as you do to live according to God, how do you remain in this place and not be troubled when you hear them singing these songs?’
The man said, ‘I tell you, abba, I have never been troubled or scandalized.’ When he heard this the old man said, ‘What, then, do you think in your heart when you hear these things?’ And he replied, ‘That they are going into the Kingdom.’ When he heard this, the old man marvelled and said, ‘This is the practice which surpasses my labour of all these years.’
I rather like gardening, and I would hope that you do too: there is something wonderful about taking seeds or cuttings and placing them in compost and watching them grow. It never ceases to give me a thrill, and once they’ve grown you end up with something that you can eat, smell or look at, or even sell: it is a source of joy, of nourishment of body and soul. It is an image used by the prophet Ezekiel to look forward to a future where God’s people are sheltered, it looks to a Messianic future, to one fulfilled by the church, as the Lord plants the twig on the lofty mountain of Calvary. The Cross is the tree of life, through which we have life, and all people can rest secure.
We in the West live in an age of anxiety, where we are all worried: what are we doing? Are we doing the right thing? Could we or should we do something different, something more? In the parable of the Kingdom with which this morning’s Gospel (Mk 4:26-34) starts, the one who scatters the seed does not know how things grow, and for all their sleeping and rising they cannot influence matters. The church founded by Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ and entrusted to his apostles began as a small affair, a few people in a backwater of the Roman Empire, and yet has now grown to point where there are several billion Christians on earth. Here in the west the picture may currently look rather bleak, but the global picture is far more encouraging. And even if we have been going through some bad harvests, the trick is to keep scattering the seed as they will grow in a way which can defy our expectations.
We can like the Apostle Paul in his Second Letter to the Corinthians always be confident, we can put our trust in God, as we know that we cannot be disappointed, his victory is complete, so we please God by following his commandments: loving Him and loving our neighbour, motivated by the love of Christ, shown to us most fully when he suffers and dies for us, to heal us and restore us, to bear the burden of our sins – ‘he died for all, so that those who live might no longer live for themselves, but for him who died and was raised for them.’ We live for Christ – our thoughts, words, and actions proclaim the saving truth of God’s love for humanity. If we seek God’s forgiveness and the forgiveness of others, and are forgiving ourselves then we can be built up in love. If we are devout in prayer, nourished by the word of God, and by the sacrament of his Body and Blood we are built up in love, our souls are nourished and we can grow into the full stature of Christ. So let us come to Him, and be fed by Him, healed and restored by Him, living in love and encouraging others so to do, for the glory of God and the building up of His Kingdom.
This morning’s readings start at the beginning, which, as we know, is a very good place to start, we go back to the root of the problem of the human condition – sin, not listening to God, and not obeying God, and suffering which we experience as a result of it. It is the common inheritance of humanity – we think we know better, that we can assume a place which rightly belongs to God and not suffer as a result. Worst of all, in the Genesis story Adam and Eve cannot even own up to their failing, they eschew the humility of being honest to God, preferring to try and shift the blame to someone else. If that were the end of the story, then it would make for some fairly bleak reading and we would have every right to feel rather glum this morning, but thankfully this morning’s second reading from Paul’s Second Letter to the Corinthians can give us hope that this is not the end of the story, that we can have hope of a new future in Jesus Christ, and an eternal destiny thanks to him. Such is grace, the undeserved free gift of God, which should make us hopeful and thankful, and to live our lives in the light of Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection for our sake.
In this morning’s gospel we see that Jesus can provoke some strong reactions: it’s all a bit hot and bothered in Nazareth, there’s such a crowd around Jesus that he cannot even eat a meal, it’s clearly chaotic. Members of his family are so concerned for his safety and well-being that they want to restrain him, as they are not sure that he’s in his right mind – they cannot understand what is happening around them, and how it is that someone whom they know is doing this; the religious authorities likewise cannot understand his actions and accuse him of being possessed by an evil spirit.
Thankfully, Jesus is having none of it, and speaks to them in parables – How can Satan cast out Satan? How can they ascribe this to the devil? What they have witnessed are healings: they have seen humanity restored before their very eyes . The scribes have mistaken the kingdom of God for the action of the evil one, they, like Jesus’ relatives have fundamentally misread the situation. In ascribing Jesus’ actions, his preaching and his miraculous healing, to the powers of darkness, they have sinned against the Holy Ghost, which is apparently unforgiveable: they have mistaken the actions of God for those of the devil, they are blind, they are unable to see that what they are witnessing is the Messianic future foretold by the prophets – scripture is being fulfilled but they are unable or unwilling to recognise the fact.
Then Jesus shows us that compared to our earthly ties, those of the kingdom are far wider, if whoever does the will of God is Jesus’ brother and sister then that should include all of us, and a whole lot more people – we are called into a relationship with God and with each other which transcends earthly ties and gives us a new paradigm within which to live. Thus to be in the church is to be part of Jesus’ extended family, called into a relationship with Him. It is a relationship characterised by the outpouring of God’s healing love upon us – Jesus’ miraculous healings in the Gospel are a sign of the Messianic kingdom, and they point to that great healing of all of humanity upon Calvary, where Jesus suffers and dies, taking our sins upon himself, paying the price which we cannot, so that in Christ humanity may be healed from the guilt and power of sin. It is that same sacrifice which is made present here, this morning, where we the people of God are given a foretaste of heaven, where we receive His Body and Blood, as a pledge of future glory, a healing remedy, the balm of Gilead to heal our sin-sick souls, the greatest spiritual medicine in all of creation, in all of history, is here for us now. So let us come to him, to be healed and restored by him, filled with his love and sharing that love with others.