“I kept that promise.”

File:Verso l'infinito - Convento Frati Cappuccini Monterosso al Mare - Cinque Terre.jpgSunday

It’s hard to describe what happened to me at the altar during the prayers of the church, yesterday. Typical Lutheran congregations don’t have a shared vocabulary for discussing personal spiritual experiences. Other communities of which I have been a part find it easier to say that God spoke to them. They know we are not talking about any kind of auditory experience, but a kind of intuition, a sense of some truth breaking into our consciousness.  A truth that comes from somewhere beyond us. Or deep within us.  Though it does seem almost audible at times.

It typically comes with the force of deep conviction. It carries a certainty, though we seldom think of it as if it were absolute. If the intuition doesn’t work out, we are willing to let it go. We misheard. Or it’s something whose truth is waiting its time.

Anyway, I had one of those moments in worship Sunday morning.  It came to me as if a voice, saying “I kept that promise.”

The reference is to the story of the synagogue ruler’s daughter, where Jesus comes in answer to the father’s prayer for her healing only to be met by the wail of mourners. On the way, the little girl had died.

It is that story with the words “Talitha cumi”, “Little girl, I say to you, arise.”

I have read that text in worship many times since I laid my daughter’s body in the ground. The text from Mark comes around in the assigned lectionary every three years, as does the account in Matthew, and we have been through the cycle five times, now. It is always bittersweet to give voice to those words before the congregation.  I recognize the message of the text. I understand the grace of Jesus’ work. I also know the parents’ grief. There has always been a certain kind of hole in my heart that Jesus wasn’t there to say those words to Anna on the night her life was taken.

It’s been 16 years. And, for some reason, this morning I was finally ready to hear Jesus whisper to me: “I kept that promise.”

He had spoken those words. Beyond my hearing, in ways far more profound than I can understand, he kept the promise. He spoke to Anna saying, “Little girl, I say to you, arise.”

I know it sounds like pie in the sky, a pious fiction, a denial of death’s dark realty.  And anytime in the last 16 years it would have sounded that way to me, too. I have fought fiercely – sometimes unfortunately fiercely – to be truthful about the reality of death. I resist all the pious platitudes about God’s plan and loved one’s in heaven. Death is death. It rips from our arms those we love. It rends the human community. It is an invader in God’s good creation. And even in those times when it comes as a relief after long suffering, it is still death, still a thief, a bandit, a terrorist, stealing life from the world – whether sucking it away slowly and snatching it away all at once.

The wonder of Easter is not that it minimizes death’s power. The wonder of Easter is that it proclaims that death is a pretender. It does not own our lives. It could not silence Jesus. It could not stop God’s redeeming work. There is a making whole of this rent world that awaits us. Somehow. Beyond our understanding. But real enough for us to trust. Real enough for us to live.

Why, today, I don’t know. It wasn’t our assigned reading. The text hasn’t been on my mind. I wasn’t experiencing a moment of grief – though the grief of Anna’s death is never all that far away. It wasn’t particularly related to the prayers being offered or the sermon I had just preached. But there it was. And today, for whatever reason, I was ready to hear: God was faithful. He spoke the words. He kept the promise.

Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Verso_l%27infinito_-_Convento_Frati_Cappuccini_Monterosso_al_Mare_-_Cinque_Terre.jpg By GIANFRANCO NEGRI (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Restoring life

File:Felix Pfeifer00.jpg

Watching for the Morning of June 28, 2015

Year B

The Fifth Sunday after Pentecost:
Proper 8 / Lectionary 13

There is a distinction to be made between curing a disease and healing. Healing is always much more than a restoration of bodily function; it is a restoration of life. We are aware of the complex interplay of body and mind in our modern understanding of disease. Nevertheless, our dominant image of illness is a biomechanical one, whereas the ancient world would have seen illness as social and spiritual. The woman with the flow of blood, who reaches out to touch the hem of Jesus’ garment, is not only physically ill but ritually unclean. She has an infirmity that robs her of her place in the community. Though she was a person of means (able to afford doctors) yet she is “poor” for she is disconnected from life. What God does for her through Jesus is not fundamentally different than what God does for the daughter of Jairus. Both are “saved” – restored to life.

The God who restores life is the hope of the poet of Lamentations who cries out the grief and desolation of a people who have lost everything at the hands of the Babylonian armies. If a future exists for this people, it comes only from this God of life.

And in the psalm for Sunday, the God who restores life is praised by the author who sings of his wondrous healing.

This God who restores life is the one proclaimed by Paul – the God who opened the grave and exalted Jesus and in him brings us from death into life. So Paul urges the brothers and sisters in Corinth to share in the offering he is gathering for the brothers and sisters in Judea in the midst of famine. In Christ Jesus, who became poor that we might become rich, we have both the model and inspiration to give of ourselves for those in need – the model and inspiration to share in God’s life-giving work.

When we speak of healing, we are speaking of God’s work to make whole: to make whole our hearts, our lives, our communities, our world. It is a work begun in us now, and it is a work we are confident will be brought to completion for us and for all creation – for the grave is empty.

The Prayer June 28, 2015

Faithful God, whose steadfast love never fails
and whose mercy never comes to an end,
may your healing hand be ever upon us,
to renew and restore our life as your faithful people;
through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

The Texts for June 28, 2015

First Reading: Lamentations 3:19-33 (appointed 3:22-33)
“The Lord is good to those who wait for him, to the soul that seeks him.” – In the midst of his profound expression of grief over the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians, the poet recalls the fragments of Israel’s worship that express their hope in God’s faithfulness and love.

Psalmody: Psalm 30
“O Lord, you brought up my soul from Sheol, restored me to life from among those gone down to the Pit.”
– The psalmist gives thanks and praise to God for delivery from a deathly illness.

Second Reading: 2 Corinthians 8:7-15
“You know the generous act of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich.”
– Paul appeals to the Corinthians to fulfill their promise to participate in the offering for the believers in Jerusalem during their time of need.

Gospel: Mark 5:21-43
“One of the leaders of the synagogue named Jairus came and, when he saw him, fell at his 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.” – Following the stilling of the storm at sea and the restoration of the man among the tombs, Jesus brings healing to a woman and restores the life of the daughter of Jairus.


Sculpture by Felix Pfeifer – “Genesung” (healing, restoration) in Rosengarten in Dresden. Photo by By Franziska Bauer (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons