February 7, 2021 - Fifth Sunday after Epiphany
Today’s Gospel reading from Mark is a story that poses enormous problems for me. First, let’s talk about Jesus and Simon’s mother-in-law. One of the dangers of tending to a sick person is contagion. We see this over and over in the ways that we are working as a church to ensure that all stay healthy. So it may be significant that the Gospel writer mentioned that Jesus took her by the hand. However, we may be reading too much into the story, and Jesus was just helping her get up.
I have to admit that if Jesus came and healed me, I don’t think that the first thing I would be doing would be serving those who had come. It makes it sound as if the healing is almost strategic, as if the problem at hand is that because she is bedridden, she is unable to tend to them properly. Over time, I’ve begun to read this like the other healing stories, when someone begins to do the thing that they couldn’t do (the blind being able to see, for example) as an indication of the enabling power of their healing.
But even more problematic for me than Simon’s mother-in-law’s behavior after being healed is all this talk about healing. It seems like everyone in sight who is sick or oppressed by demons comes to Jesus and he heals them. It all seems too instantaneous and complete, so matter-of-fact. The lame walk, the deaf hear, and those who are oppressed by destructive forces are suddenly no longer struggling because Jesus has intervened.
And the truth be told is that our Church’s message is that the Spirit of the risen Christ continues to be present with us always. BUT… the lame limp; the deaf sign without hearing; the blind cannot see; the addicts remain addicted to destructive forces and seek help. Either these stories are untrue or if the spirit of the risen Christ is among us, then Christ is among us in a very different way from how the body of the living Christ once walked among us.
And so, I admit, I am a skeptic. I am skeptical of those healing stories. I am skeptical of the implication that Jesus would be healing all those people and even raising the dead today, if we had only the right amount of faith. And there are times that I am skeptical of whether the spirit of the risen Christ is anything more than an inspiration.
And I -- like many of you -- am at times skeptical of how the spirit of the risen Christ is with us all as we cannot gather. I am skeptical of how Jesus is pulling us together through this pain that we are all enduring. At times, I cannot imagine how the church is sustaining any of you or even me as we are absent from our building and our in person community.
But there are flashes of light, if only we look for them. In the silence of our mourning, there are glimmers of hope and breaths of the Spirit. Friends, the joy of wholeness is measured not by physical perfection, but our connection to community. In the communities of Jesus, when the person with leprosy was declared clean, it was their ticket to re-enter community, to be engaged again in work, family, worship, and life. When the demonized person was set free, they were set free to fully connect again with others. The person who carried the sick or lame to Jesus walked home with that person arm-in-arm. We can read these stories as magic or miracles, but we can also read them as stories of human community being healed from the brokenness that sickness, disease, and mental illness can bring.
I know that our suspension of in-person worship is difficult. I know that you grieve not having what we have when we are in our building. I know that it is hard to connect when we are used to seeing one another in person. No one has once said that this work, that this waiting, is easy.
It is fitting that Lent is nearly upon us. Our season of Lent calls us to reflection and preparation before the celebration of Easter. We are to remember and replicate Jesus Christ’s sacrifice and withdrawal into the desert for 40 days. Today’s Gospel tells us of Jesus’ journey to a deserted place to pray. Our community exists outside of this deserted place; the Gospel doesn’t say “Jesus took all of his friends and journeyed to a deserted place to pray.” And so I think that this period of time, when we were so very hoping for a return to our seats in the church, can be a reminder of how Christ wandered in the desert.
I know that this is an opportunity for each of you to look at your faith and determine if what you seek is that in-person connection with new folks that you might get at a church that is having services in person. And I know that many of you feel like the Diocese is dragging their feet on reopening, not being transparent, and -- whether intentionally or unintentionally -- heaping financial concerns upon churches. I know that this upsets many of you, but I find the science behind the Bishop’s decision to be sound and I agree with his path forward. I know it’s not easy to be apart physically from those with whom we share much love.
BUT I want you to hear me loudly and clearly that our community is alive and well, regardless of whether we meet in person or online. Because the truth is that the risen Christ does not walk among us in the Church any more than the risen Christ walks among our meetings on Zoom or our worship on YouTube. Jesus is walking among us, not vanquishing this pernicious virus, but by strengthening our community to survive in ways we had not imagined. Thanks be to God