February 18, 2018, “God’s Healing Hands” by Brian Donovan (Click on title for audio)

God’s Healing Hands

Beloved friends-

let us hold in our hearts the seventeen innocent who returned to dust on Ash Wednesday, the broken soul who took those lives, the community in Florida where they all lived, loved, and learned, the nation who cries in lament with our beloved brothers and sisters, the world and most importantly God who feels the separation in these loses, these wounds. Let us remember this is but one wound in our communities, in our nation, in our world. But, let us remember now so we may seek the healing we need.

Let us pray:

God, we pray that the meditations of these words and the discernment of our hearts be pleasing to you as we seek your son’s mission of holy healing.

For much of my time here, I have had the honor and joy of presenting the assurance of Grace each week. Words fashioned and tooled to express the healing process of our souls here at the UCW. Words that take us through the steps of repentance, which begins when we ask for forgiveness of those whom we have offended, Next, we offer the thought, or brokenness, which blocks us from God. Jesus comes to heal us by taking away the brokenness. Thereby you God heal, cleanse, or re-create our hearts, making room for the love of the holy spirit. This protestant theology is designed to bring our souls closer to God step by step. However, this theology is different from Thomas Aquinas who claims an all or nothing type of confession of sin. Mind you, his type of Catholic healing process is correct as well it is just a different way to reach the healing or atonement with God.

Yet, what happens when we are the offended, the wounded, the one bleeding on the floor with a bullet wound or the one lamenting for a child who just died. How do we possibly heal from this?

I am not here to say that believing in God will close that bullet wound or bring that child back to life. This is Lent, and we begin this time remembering that we are all dust and to dust we shall return. Still, when these acts of violence happen when we are offended, wounded, bleeding, or lamenting we become separated from God, from our community, our hearts harden, and we can become the offenders, the ones who learn to hate.

But, the answer of healing is not confined to any one particular human theology. Christianity does not have the answer alone, Judaism does not have the answer alone, Our Muslim siblings do not have the answer alone. We do not have the only answer because we are human and each of our beautiful theologies, or religions, are only one interpretation of the divine, we call God.

Yet, I do believe we each have an answer. I just believe there are multiple answers, multiple paths, multiple ways for our souls to heal, much like there are multiple ways for our minds to heal be it psychoanalysis or group therapy, much like there are many ways for our body to heal be it medication or surgery. The point is there are many paths of healing; however, here, now-in this time of lent, let us speak of the mission of holy healing which Jesus showed us as we search for answers.

The gospel reading this week is a story of healing.

John 11:1-44 is about Lazarus whose body is resurrected by a powerful miracle of bodily healing. This story which only resides in the Gospel according to John seems to support the divine portrayal of Jesus expressed throughout this Gospel. Further, this story immediately precedes the plot by Caiaphas which will lead to Jesus’s crucifixion; thus, the miracle of Lazarus being resurrected seems like the cause for the crucifixion.

However, Jesus’s primary mission was healing the souls of people to God, not body healing. Although Jesus uses body healing throughout the gospels, he does so to glorify God and heal or atone our souls to God. This healing can be seen when Jesus heals the blind man who was born blind so “God’s works might be reveled in him” (John 9:3) or in the story of Lazarus whose “illness does not lead to death; rather it is for God’s glory” (John 11:4). Jesus tells us plainly that Lazarus will rise again (John 11:23). Thus, the bodily resurrection of Lazarus is not the healing miracle of this Bible passage, but the way to glorify God and reveal a path of holy healing and atonement of our souls.

This all said, there is a miracle or three about healing in the Gospel according to John 11:1-44, none are better or worse. Each miracle has a purpose and a place, each revealing a different way to heal or become atoned with God once again.

The first approach of healing is the Jewish understanding presented by Martha. She misunderstands Jesus believing he is speaking of the final judgement when we are all called by God to rise again. This general idea is based on the Jewish understanding from Daniel 12:2 which says we shall awake to either everlasting life of everlasting contempt. Basically, Martha was living into a Jewish belief of the afterlife. Many Christian and Jewish theologies still accept this theology which has developed into the belief of heaven and hell.

However, Jesus turns around Martha’s idea when he says if you “believe in me… you will live” (John 11:25) revealing the second path of healing. Jesus does not say what will happen if you do not believe. This latter point is simply not part of the discussion; instead, Jesus is showing us his way of healing.

Still, Jesus says even when you die you will live; and then, he resurrects Lazarus. So, it would seem that Jesus is promoting we will either get up and live when we die or we do not really believe in Jesus. However, we also know death is a harsh reality. Ash Wednesday reminds us that from dust we came and to dust we shall return. We are reminded that we are marked on that night with God’s steadfast love and so how is this holy healing if we are still dead? Because, again Jesus is not talking about the bodily healing but that of the soul and the holy healing which will atone us to God.

Edward the confessor, king of England and builder of the first Westminster abbey in AD 1000, mirrors this idea when he says, “weep not, I shall not die.” Edward goes on to explain that our world is the land of the dying and it is through Jesus that we may journey to the land of the living. To put it another way, he says we are traveling not to a sunset but to a sunrise.

This sunrise is the key of where, when, and how we will be healed wholly. We call this idea the atonement or when we become one with God and our community, much like our assurance of pardon each week reminds us of this healing process when we are the offender. Still, these paths to healing are big. In some ways too huge for us to handle. To explain, I refer to the Jewish model presented by Martha and respond much the same way she does: yes, I know the seventeen children will live again on the last day, but I am sad, broken now and it is not the last day. I may even say Jesus’s path is too large for me to handle as well. For, I do believe in Jesus. The thought does comfort me that the seventeen souls and I will come to the sunrise together with God. Still, I miss understanding how, how can I begin healing now when I am the one lamenting for another loss, when souls are torn from us again. How do we heal from this at least enough to not hate while we work towards a solution of life, love, and compassion?

The answer lies in the third way of healing. It is the path of human beings and the path which brings unity amongst our communities. Through this unity – human beings can become atoned with, or at-one with, God. The key lies in the seemingly off-handed comment: “Mary was the one who anointed the Lord with perfume and wiped his feet with her hair.” This gift of compassion which Mary provides is extraordinary. The perfume is pure Nard, an ointment imported from the Himalayas. This is a gift that could have been sold for three hundred denarii or about $36,000 dollars today. She does this to anoint Jesus for the burial which again is an act of kindness, an act of respect, an act of compassion in the Jewish culture.

This story in the Gospel according to John seems to say that through compassion we can come together, become unified and join in a true fellowship with each other. Thus, we can become healed with and to each other and thereby to God. The theologian Henri Nouwen says “the authority of compassion is the possibility of man to forgive his brother” (or sister). Therefore, he is saying if we can find compassion for the other, the person who wounded us, the person who took our child we may be able to forgive our sibling, which is a gift to ourselves for forgiveness removes the hate which blocks us from being atoned with our God.

Richard Selzer explains this in another way. He says, “the surgeon must somehow enter into a fellowship of suffering with the patient and then proceed to heal himself as the patient is healed.” The key here is fellowship, unity, and atonement and it is through this connection with the one who is harmful which we can find compassion to forgive and heal not only for ourselves but the one who is wounding us.

This holy mission is not easy. God never said it was easy; nor, did God say our path would be free from pain. This holy mission of God is hard, and painful, and we will cry many times for the souls who are taken from us. Yet true holy healing comes when we can rise above the pain and find compassion. To fix our world we must begin in fellowship, in love. Because it is only in this place of steadfast love that we can reach out and be the hands of God healing the souls of our broken world.

God hear the cries of your children and guide our hands, let us be the embodiment of compassion as we seek to find holy solutions of healing our wounded world. Amen