Sunday, February 4 Sermon: Singing through our tears
Sunday, February 4, 2018
I returned from my trip to our companion synod just before Thanksgiving, and caught something nasty and insidious. It was just enough to bother my sinuses, and give me a headache, on top of lingering jet lag. I came back to work and slogged through the day, only to head to bed soon after dinner, and crashed, woke up tired, went through the day in a fog, only to hit it early again. After about two weeks, the sun was shining brightly, and I felt even more present to staff and students and parishioners than ever before. I wondered what was going on. And it dawned on me, duh, I had been sick. And now I was well!
Now in February, after another trip to Jerusalem for the consecration of our companion synod bishop, and the death of my mother, and another slightly less aggravating cold, but NO FLU, once again I have felt out of sorts. Grief can affect your concentration. Grief can disorient your sense of time. Grief has been described as a wave, something that overtakes you either in an instant or with a slowly progressing build up.
I find myself in a new role, as griever. I miss my mom. And in observing her dying, and her death, friends, family, and congregation have rightly identified this place of mourning as significant. So that’s why I have a pile of cards in my dining room, filled with expressions of sympathy, love, assurances of prayer, acknowledging grief. That’s why so many people have gone out of their way to check in on me, and I’m sensing compassion coming my way when I am more used to sending it out to others.
Being sick, being in grief, is disaffecting. It makes you out or sorts, doesn’t it? Your body is no longer reliable. You feel your limitations.
In an essay called “Healing,” John Koenig says
Though we sometimes try to deny it, illness, injury, and psychological distress dog virtually every step of our daily walk through life. They grip us and the people we love with pain, touching every thought and motion by their presence, often briefly but sometimes for years on end. They dilute our sense of control, undermining our certainties and building up our resentment of the limits they impose. Sometime we even feel defined by our maladies and those of the people we love. We become a “man with a withered hand,” a “woman who has been suffering hemorrhages for twelve years,” or a “woman whose little daughter has an unclean spirit” (Mark 3:1; 5:25; 7:25). We yearn for the touch that will make us whole, or we yearn to be able to offer this touch of wholeness to someone we know.
–from “Healing,” by John Koenig, in Practicing our Faith: A Way of Life for a Searching People, edited by Dorothy C. Bass (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publisher, © 1997), p. 149.
In choosing hymns for the hymnal in our pews, the red one with Worship on the binder, the editors meant to address the sense of loss in lives and communities by including a hymn section titled “Lament.” There you can sing through your tears. One hymn called In Deepest Night by Susan Palo Cherwien goes like this:
In deepest night, in darkest days,
when harps are sung, no songs we raise,
when silence must suffice as praise,
yet sounding in us quietly
there is the song of God.
–From Evangelical Lutheran Worship, number 699 stanza 1
I like that, do you? I like that poetic implication that sometimes there is nothing to do or say but to be bereft. I also like the theological implication that when our singing is impossible that God’s song can sound within us quietly.
The inevitability of illness and trouble are pitted against the will of God to set things right. The word for healing in Greek is the same word for salvation, sozo. The word in today’s Gospel for Jesus taking Simon’s mother-in-law and lifting her up is the same as raising from the dead.
In the gospel, in Mark’s gospel, the stories are like pictures painted with swift brushstrokes.
In a matter of ten verses, we realize that so many people are sick, or possessed by demons—out of sorts, their bodies down for the count. Like many of us, they are judged not just by who they are but by what they have. And in ten short verses, we see crowds of people flocking to be by Jesus, near Jesus, and healed by Jesus. I have often read today’s gospel passage to people before surgery to acknowledge the voracity of disease, and the inclination of God in Jesus to bring healing, sozo, and new life, like raising from the dead.
The woman identified as Simon’s mother-in-law was down for the count, in bed with a fever. Four disciples told Jesus about this at once. He went to her, took her by the hand and lifted her up, like he was raising her from the dead. Jesus did not run away, did not screw up his face in disgust, but restored her self and her body to life. She returned serve, to the social fabric of her home and community. What happened? She was well!
Interesting, isn’t it that Jesus is so intent on being present to so many, and to promote God’s wholeness? Interesting, isn’t it, that the gospel also mentions Jesus going away to be in solitude and to pray? Do you think being well happens when with others and when we are in solitude? Sometimes we are pulled to be in one place, and pulled back again to be in another.
What if we as a community were consistently inviting Jesus to provide healing for people? What if we as a community were blessing time in prayer, in solitude, and with others?
In the letter from James we get a glimpse of the earliest church practices when he says Are any among you sick? They should call for the elders of the church and have them pray over them, anointing them with oil in the name of the Lord. The prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise them up; and anyone who has committed sins will be forgiven. (James 5:14-15)
What I like about this is that the faith community is engaged with those who are sick and with the process of healing. The disease is not the focus, the one diseased is. And there are rituals of touch, rituals rooted in honoring the body, and rituals connecting a person to God who is so ready to save, sozo, and to forgive.
I can’t imagine being ill or being in grief without others nearby, ready to care, ready to pray, ready to serve. A congregation like ours is vital to others’ well-being as we enact prayer, meal ministries, and visitation, as we offer loving relationships, or as we sit in silence. Here, we represent Jesus’ intent to save the world, sozo, and raise the dead and dying to new life.
Una Kroll says Christianity roots its healing ministry in the good soil of the Church as a community of ordinary people who come together to do things with God’s help that they could not do in their own strength. Like eighty of us on a Sunday morning, offering prayer, bringing Jesus into our very selves, and singing through our tears.
Tags: grief, healing