Year B Proper 8, 27 June 2021
St. James the Less Episcopal, Ashland, VA, Live and Online
Collect: Almighty God, you have built your Church upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief cornerstone: Grant us so to be joined together in unity of spirit by their teaching, that we may be made a holy temple acceptable to you; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
When Jesus had crossed again in the boat to the other side, a great crowd gathered around him; and he was by the sea. Then 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.” So he went with him.
And a large crowd followed him and pressed in on him. Now there was a woman who had been suffering from hemorrhages for twelve years. She had endured much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had; and she was no better, but rather grew worse. She had heard about Jesus, and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, for she said, “If I but touch his clothes, I will be made well.” Immediately her hemorrhage stopped; and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease. Immediately aware that power had gone forth from him, Jesus turned about in the crowd and said, “Who touched my clothes?” And his disciples said to him, “You see the crowd pressing in on you; how can you say, ‘Who touched me?’” He looked all around to see who had done it. But the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came in fear and trembling, fell down before him, and told him the whole truth. He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.”
While he was still speaking, some people came from the leader’s house to say, “Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the teacher any further?” But overhearing what they said, Jesus said to the leader of the synagogue, “Do not fear, only believe.” He allowed no one to follow him except Peter, James, and John, the brother of James. When they came to the house of the leader of the synagogue, he saw a commotion, people weeping and wailing loudly. When he had entered, he said to them, “Why do you make a commotion and weep? The child is not dead but sleeping.” And they laughed at him. Then he put them all outside, and took the child’s father and mother and those who were with him, and went in where the child was. He took her by the hand and said to her, “Talitha cum,” which means, “Little girl, get up!” And immediately the girl got up and began to walk about (she was twelve years of age). At this they were overcome with amazement. He strictly ordered them that no one should know this, and told them to give her something to eat.
What’s the point of touching something? What’s the point of feeling it with our own hands? Mentally it may not be much. We tell children in museums, “Don’t Touch!” or better yet, “We touch only with our eyes.” But even from our earliest days, we touch things to make them more real. Just to be sure. We snuggle into our moms on their lap. We hold our grandparents’ hands. We kiss. We hug. It is much more than a physical thing, it is spiritual, too.
I am always fascinated by this story from today’s Gospel and its dichotomies. A rich family who is “deserving” of a healing for their rapidly declining daughter urges Jesus to come as fast as he can, and he is delayed by a woman, a destitute, unclean woman at that, who does not even want his attention, just contact with this healer. A young girl versus a woman who has been ritually unclean up to the age of accountability, 12 years.
If you asked the woman what’s in a touch, she would say everything. And it was. Ask Jairus before Jesus arrived and his daughter has just died, he would say the same thing. Rich and Poor, Young or Old, we all need to touch and be touched. We touch just like we breathe. We touch because we are alive.
If you have ever touched a dead body, the coldness tells you something is wrong, but it also clearly shows that the life has gone out of them.
The Gospel used words about touch. Jairus: “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.” The hemorrhaging woman: “If I but touch his clothes, I will be made well.” The touch is what makes it real.
When I have had the wonderful opportunity of travel, I am always fascinated by the evidence of touch. Statues, especially religious ones, with shiny tones while the rest of it is patinated, the copper made green over time. The steps of a cathedral curved into a dip through a millennium of pilgrims’ feet.
I remember standing just below the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. The old ramp to go up to the Temple long since bricked over. But the bedrock stone that led to the door would have once born the feet of Jesus. It was the only spot in Israel that we knew for sure Jesus would have walked upon. One cannot replace or remove the bedrock. It felt different. It felt holy. Jesus had touched it most certainly as he went up to the Temple, and I have stood, and walked, and touched there, too. That common touch gave me a connection that I cannot describe.
The opposite can also be true. We can be in spaces where the pain and sorrow and hate can be tangible. I have stood in Dachau where God’s children were gassed and burned. I have stood in the Cape Coast Slave Castle dungeons where God’s Children lost their freedom and so many their lives. One feels the oppression and heartbreak still.
What’s in a touch? To love and be loved. To affirm our existence, and to affirm it in others. We are without a doubt, social creatures. I have told you my proof of that before, you cannot tickle yourself. We are born for relationship and interaction, to touch and be touched. To have our existence affirmed, and to let others know we are there for them.
In the modern age we dismiss the importance of touch, and it is to our detriment. Again, the more hi-tech we become, the more hi-touch we must be. Think of it, there are 2 Sacraments of the Episcopal Church (Eucharist and Baptism) and the 5 Sacramental Acts (Confirmation, Reconciliation of the Penitent, Anointing of the sick and dying, Marriage, Holy Orders). Each of these involve touch.
Feel the bread in your hand before you taste it on your tongue. Feel the water on your head dripping down. Feel the hands of the bishop on your head as you become a full member of the Church. Most of us have experienced those if you are a regular participant. And the others are the same. Hands of blessing assuring forgiveness and restoration. Oil applied to the forehead. The binding of hands with the priest’s stole in blessing after marriage vows. The laying on of hands in ordination and consecration. Amazing. Simple. Real. Made more real in the touch.
The Sacraments are described as “outward and visible signs of inward and spiritual grace.” (The Book of Common Prayer, p. 857) They are the touchstones of what is going on inside. Even notice our language. Touchstones.
Friends, as we gather back inside, we rub the grain of the pew. We shake the hand or hug the neck of a friend. We feel the bass of the organ reverberating in our chest. We touch. We make sure it is real. We touch out of love. We touch because we are made to do so. Skin to skin is really heart to heart. One of the first acts on this earth is to take a newborn and place it on the mother’s chest, and the bonding begins.
How we touch the person of others is how we touch the lives of others. I have had a few people this week stop in at church, and before they left they asked for a hug. Ministry made real. Ministry made real in the touch.
As the Gospel of Jesus Christ spread into the Mediterranean world, it left the home of its birth. An odd, monotheistic faith of a backward and misunderstood minor people in the corner of the Roman Empire. Philosophically, they understood the Body and what we think of as the Soul as united. They were inseparable while living. They even had parties who would argue that there is no afterlife without a body, and others the opposite. (Pharisees = Afterlife, Sadducees = Nothing After) But as the faith ventured out amongst those heavily influenced by Greek philosophy where they separated the Body from the Mind or Spirit or Soul, those ideas began to creep in. And we see that competition throughout the New Testament. Notice the language especially around the idea of heaven being populated with Resurrected Bodies. Physical Bodies being restored to go along with the Spiritual Reality, whatever that may be. That is why it was so important that Jesus ate fish with the disciples along the seashore, why he broke bread with the two on the road to Emmaus, why he urged Thomas to touch the holes in his hands and place his hand in Jesus’ side. He was physically resurrected. And most had to touch him to know he was real.
After COVID, we find ourselves in a world that is once again waiting for Resurrection. We find ourselves in a world touching things to make sure they are real. We find ourselves shaking and holding hands a little bit longer. That is okay. It is natural.
There are many who are not yet at the point of letting things be tangible. They are not ready to touch. That is okay. It is hard to throw things in reverse after 16 months of doing the opposite.
How can we make our ministry tangible? How can we show our love of God and all God’s children in physical, tangible ways? The Free Clinic downstairs has been accomplishing that coming on fifteen years. The new Food Pantry that Flory built is a tangible way that those in need can get what they need. If you want to contribute, just drop it off at the church. The Food Pantry ministry and the backpacks are all tangible ministries showing our love, of God and neighbor. Our children's’ ministries, our youth group, our 4th Quarter, as we get all these resumed and back off the ground, they show our touch. We are calling folks who can touch lives in this way to help us now. All of these ministries show our love.
You know what to do. You know how to touch, safely, responsibly, and lovingly. Your ministry may be taking care of a neighbor whose need only you know. It may be writing a note or driving someone to a doctor’s appointment. It may be mowing a lawn or taking out trash. However you do it, whatever you do, make your love visible and tangible. Make your love real. Touch a life, touch a heart, touch. There is healing in a touch. Probably not a cure, and we all have scars, especially after this last season. And our healing touch is that of Jesus. We are his hands. We are his feet. We are the Body of Christ. Notice our language again. We use the Body metaphor because we are called to Touch the World, to Change the World, in the name and to the honor and glory of Christ. Thanks be to God! Amen.