Take my lips, oh God, and speak through them. Take our minds and think with them. Take our hearts and set them on fire. Amen.
In our gospel, Mark awakens us to the abundant healing grace of God in Jesus. Jesus, there is hope, life, and community for all. Following the encounter with a demon-possessed man, Jesus crosses to the other side of the sea of Galilee, where a large crowd has gathered. There, he is approached by a synagogue leader, Jairus, who fell at Jesus’ feet and begged him repeatedly, “My little daughter is at the point of death. Come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well and live.” We know that synagogue leaders were not known to be followers of Jesus, yet the desperation of this father leads him to seek Jesus to heal his daughter. Jesus, filled with compassion, goes along with him. And at the possibility of witnessing a miracle, the already assembled crowd presses on with Jesus as they journey to Jairus’ home. But something happens along the way. We are introduced to a woman who has been suffering with a bleeding disorder for 12 years. In the midst of the crowd, she is making her way to Jesus because she’s heard about him. She too is motivated by desperation. We’re told that she had endured much under many physicians and had spent all that she had. She was no better, but rather grew worse. Her condition caused not only physical suffering, but also spiritual and emotional suffering. Resulting in a severe consequence of exclusion and isolation. Jesus is her only hope.
This woman represents for us, today, every person who has been relegated, ignored, marginalized and isolated because of illness or status. It is by no means equivalent, but in the midst of the pandemic, some of us have come to understand, to a limited degree, what isolation, separation from interactions with other people, from love and physical touch feels like. And the toll it takes on our mental health and our overall wellbeing.
Likely conditioned by her long rejection and isolation, she dare not ask for a miracle. But the best she could hope for was to touch Jesus’ clothes to be healed. Believing that that would be enough. And in that moment, she was healed of her disease. Then everything stops. Aware that power had left his body, Jesus questions, “Who touched my clothes?” The disciples considered this question absolutely absurd, given the crowd. Everyone was touching him. But the woman falls before Jesus to admit her situation to him and to the crowd. I can imagine the crowd gasping and moving away from her, fearing that she has touched someone or all of them. Then Jesus does this really incredible thing. He turns to this nameless woman and calls her, “daughter.” He makes her family. She has identity now, and a relationship with him. Acknowledging her faith, he sends her forth in peace, now healed, made well.
We can only guess that her healing changed he; her heart, her body, her life, and her soul. Because she could now be restored in relationships and with her community. And healing the woman in front of the people, Jesus was himself making public a statement about his own understanding of compassion and justice and mercy. And just as she experiences healing and restoration, Jairus gets the devastating news that has daughter has died. Knowing that every ray of hope had now been stripped away, Jesus offers words of encouragement, “Do not fear, only believe.” In taking Peter, James and John, he moves past the mourners, took the girl’s hand and said, “Little girl, get up.” She rises. Not even death is strong enough to stop Jesus’ saving power.
Jesus instructs those gathered not to relay what has taken place. I’m not sure why, but it is striking that the woman’s healing is public while the healing of Jairus’ daughter is so private. One thing, however, is true. Through faith, Jairus and the woman are forever bound together in one human story. But they could not have been more different from each other. Jairus, a man of status and wealth and an unnamed woman of little means. Yet they held in common suffering, illness, and tragedy. In the face of exhausting every human option, faith is all that remained for each of them. And both reach out to Jesus in utter belief that he is the answer to their desperate conditions. For both, Jesus does more than heal. He embraces and blesses them for their faith. Through this gospel, we experienced Jesus taking on the pain and disease of those around him. Jesus shows us what it means for God to accept our pain, heal our illness, and restore us to new life. But Jesus’ example does not merely show us the ways of God. It also teaches us how we are to be with one another as the human family. Jesus invites us to be among the suffering and those facing death-dealing realities. Jesus invites us not only to the awareness of prayer, but also calls us to action. We too are to be agents of healing. And as my brother in Christ, Canon Hamlin often reminds us, “There is work to be done in the kingdom.”
As we emerge from 15 months of living through a global pandemic, we are people in need of healing. We, like the unnamed woman and Jairus’ his daughter, are coming out of our time of isolation, illness, and death. But in our rush to return to what we knew as normal, the status quo, we must resist the urge to rebury the unpleasant aspects of our society that have been, again, unearthed and placed in a full view. Because of our perceived fatigue and talking about them, or our hesitancy to engage in the work needed to root out unjust systems that impact the vulnerable and the marginalized, generation after generation. We have experienced so much together and have seen in stark relief, the fragility of the institutions intended to hold us together as a society. And we find that we are still dealing with the same issues around race that were present a century ago. Just as Jairus’ daughter and the unnamed woman are given new life, we are not called to return to what was, but called to create a new thing, rooted in faith and hope.
Today, on this last Pride weekend in this month of June, we note and I celebrate the sixth anniversary of the landmark Supreme Court decision granting the freedom and right of same gender couples to legally marry. Even as we stand between two other significant bookends that also frame our common life together as people in this nation. Last week was Juneteenth, that celebrated the notification of the last enslaved of the existence and intent of the Emancipation Proclamation and the freedom it promised. And next week, July 4th, we commemorate the adoption of the Declaration of Independence, explaining why the colonies declared freedom from British rule. We often experience freedom in terms of freedom from something. Oppression, bondage. But the next step, the real promise of freedom, lies in what we are free for. You and I are free for one another. Free to build the beloved community, to lean into the ideals of a more perfect union, where our value and worth as the human family, as beloved children of God, is not defined by social status, by the pronouns by which we identify ourselves, by who we love, or by the color of our skin.
My beloved siblings, with the faith of Jairus and the unnamed woman, I pray that we take this opportunity in time before us, to seek the healing we need as a nation, and to reach out and hope to our Lord, who offers compassion and wholeness for us all.