“Jesus saw her, called her over and said, woman, you are set free from your ailment.” In the name of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Last month I had the incredible opportunity to walk a portion of the Camino de Santiago, an ancient network of pilgrimage routes that stretches across Spain, Portugal, and France, all leading to the city of Santiago de Compostela, located in the far northwest of Spain. Tradition tells us that the body of St James son of Zebedee, in Spanish, Santiago, was discovered in the ninth century, in the region of Galicia. And a church was subsequently constructed over the site where the apostle’s body was discovered. The faithful soon began to flock to the apostle’s shrine in Santiago de Compostela, which became, along with Jerusalem and Rome, one of the most important places of pilgrimage in all of Christianity. Pilgrims have now been making the journey along the Camino to Santiago for nearly a thousand years. The concept of the Camino is relatively straightforward. Each day you walk, usually about 12 to 15 miles, stopping in towns along the way to rest for the night, before continuing on the next day. And thus, the pilgrim continues all the way to Compostela. The concept is simple, but the experience is physically and spiritually demanding, and also transformative. Everyone who undertakes it is changed in some way.

For the Camino offers abundant lessons to anyone who is willing to listen and pay attention. One fundamental truth that I had to remember every day was that everyone had a reason for walking.  No one undertakes such a challenging and admittedly unique experience, without a reason.  Every day I met fellow pilgrims, carrying sorrows, joys, griefs, questions, pains, and longings with them every step of the way.  Everyone was in a sense searching for a bit of peace, for answers to big questions in their lives, for healing for a broken heart.  Meeting folks along the way reminded me that each one of us, every human being, is a mystery. A wonderfully created child of God, who is always much more than anyone will ever fully know or understand, and whose heart and spirit carries much more than anyone can ever see.

The Camino invites each Pilgrim to recognize this reality. And in turn to be just a bit more gentle, a bit more kind, to each person encountered along the way, and indeed beyond, on the continued journey of life. One experience in particular made this reality very clear to me.  Along the particular path I walked, up on a mountain near the highest point of the entire route, there stands a very tall iron cross where pilgrims are invited to place a stone that they have carried with them from home, symbolic of the burdens they carry and seek to lay down. I joined in this ritual, placing my stone at the iron cross and offering a prayer to God. It was a moving moment, but what most stirred my heart was not my tiny stone, but the multitude of others surrounding that large cross on the mountaintop placed there by all those pilgrims who had gone before.

Those stones testified to what only God Almighty could fully know: hopes, sorrows, yearnings, burdens laid down and prayers ascending for relief and courage to face the days ahead.  Whether walking the Pilgrim journey on the Camino or traveling the various journeys of life, we all carry with us much that can feel heavy and weigh us down. The truth of course, is that you do not have to undertake an experience as involved as a pilgrimage to find relief. Though such opportunities are spiritually rich beyond all words.  For the truth is, a chief concern of the gospel of Jesus Christ is the freedom offered to those who come to him.

And that is the topic I would like for us to consider this morning, as we turn our attention to the text before us from Luke’s gospel.  It tells of Jesus healing a woman in the synagogue on the Sabbath. One of several stories we find in the gospels in which there is some controversy between Jesus and the religious leaders over the proper observance of Sabbath. To understand what is at stake here, we must better understand what the scriptures have to say about Sabbath. The 10 commandments as found in Exodus, chapter 20, speak of it in this way, “Remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work. But the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God.  You shall not do any work. For in six days the Lord made heaven and the earth, the sea in all that is in them, but rested the seventh day. Therefore, the Lord blessed the seventh day and consecrated it”.

This portion of Exodus tells us that the Sabbath is to be kept holy. It is to be set apart.  A day unlike all others.  The defining characteristic that sets this day apart is abstaining from work.  A question of considerable importance, however, remains unaddressed in the text. What exactly qualifies as work? Now this question was one debated by Jewish leaders across the centuries and was at the heart of the controversies Jesus had with religious leaders, including here in Luke chapter 13. This text tells us that Jesus was teaching in the synagogue, when from among the crowd he saw one woman, a woman bent over and unable to stand up straight. She had been crippled for 18 long years. Jesus saw her, called her over and said to her, “Woman, you are set free from your ailment”. He laid his hands on her and she stood up straight and immediately began praising God. Can you imagine, truly  can you imagine, the relief that she must have felt in that moment? Finally set free after so many long years of suffering.

Among those gathered, watching this amazing and tender moment was a leader of the synagogue who was indignant that Jesus had healed on the Sabbath day. He quotes the scriptures when he says there are six days on which work ought to be done. Come on those days and be cured. Not on the Sabbath day. This synagogue leader believed Jesus’ actions had constituted work and thus violated the commandment to keep the Sabbath holy. Jesus responds in an interesting way by using an argument from a sort of smaller matter to a greater one.  If some felt they could untie their animals to offer them the relief of a drink of water, how could offering this woman relief from her suffering possibly violate the commandments.

Now it is extremely important that we recognize here that Jesus does not disparage or reject the practice of Sabbath. We must be careful to avoid any reading of this passage that creates an inaccurate dichotomy, identifying Judaism, represented here by the synagogue leader, as overly legalistic and obsessed with the proper observance of minute details, while identifying Christianity, here represented by Jesus, as concerned with love mercy and compassion. This reading is not only inaccurate, but also in a pernicious way, furthers harmful anti-Jewish sentiment. Jesus himself, of course a faithful Jew, was as the opening of the text tells us, teaching in the synagogue that day and faithfully observing the Sabbath. The closing of the text also tells us that the crowd gathered in the synagogue that day, presumably a majority, if not all of them, Jewish, was rejoicing at the wonderful things Jesus was doing, not protesting his actions.  In his confrontation with the synagogue leader, then Jesus does not seek to annul Sabbath practice, but instead calls the attention and the focus to an essential truth about Sabbath, that it is about remembering God’s saving and liberating acts of old.

The book of Deuteronomy, which is a sort of retelling of the law by Moses to the people of ancient Israel as they prepare to enter the land, says this about Sabbath, “Observe the Sabbath and keep it holy as the Lord, your God, commanded you.  Six days you shall labor and do all your work. But the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God.  You shall not do any work. Remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt and the Lord, your God, brought you out from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore, the Lord, your God commanded you to keep the Sabbath day”.

Sabbath observance is fundamentally linked with God’s deliverance of the Israelites from slavery in Egypt.  Every Sabbath remembers and celebrates God’s mighty acts of liberation, bringing God’s people to freedom. Of course, the very command to refrain from work is itself an act of being freed. From the incessant need to produce and work, an act of being freed from the delusion that we can do everything ourselves, inviting one instead to rest in the goodness and gracious provision of God. Freedom, Jesus reminds us, is at the heart of Sabbath and thus his freeing of this woman from her ailment ought not only be permitted on this day, but should be seen as the liberating power of God revealed in their very midst.

Now, the earliest Christians, many of whom were themselves Jewish by background, followed in the steps of Jesus and his disciples and observed the Sabbath.  In time, however, as Christianity became increasingly distinguished from Judaism, this practice shifted and the day of gathering and observance for the Christian community became the first day of the week. Sunday, the day when the faithful women discovered the empty tomb and became the first witnesses to the resurrection.

So many centuries later, we continue to gather on this first day of the week. Here, we too remember God’s mighty acts of old, but our remembrance is not a mere passive calling to mind, but is a remembering that brings those acts into the present right here and now, as we gather together.  We remember Christ’s death and resurrection, his rising from the tomb and defeat of death and trust that God will raise us to new life this very day. As we gather, as God’s people, to hear the sacred story and share in the Eucharistic meal, where Christ offers himself to us.  We pray to experience that liberating power of God, not just as something from the past, but as a reality here and now for all of us who are wearied by the changes and chances of this fragile life.

A rather bold claim as people of faith, is that God actually shows up and does that for us. So here again this morning, these words of Jesus, and trust indeed, that they are true for you and for me, “come to me all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest”. You will be set free. Amen.