Pastor Joe Britton
St. Michael’s Church
V Pentecost: Songs of Sorrow, Songs of Trust
“If I but touch his clothes, I will be made well.” (Mark 5)
We commemorate today the toll that sixteen months of pandemic has taken upon us.
Some of us have suffered the loss of a loved one.
Some of us have lost jobs.
Some of us have had to reinvent our jobs.
Some of us have had to teach and care for children at home.
Some of us have taught students remotely online.
Some of us have been shut in at home, anxious and lonely.
Some of us have had to work on the front lines of caring for the community, even at great risk to our own health and safety.
Some of us have had to cope with other illness while medical care was hard to access.
We have all had to be separated and isolated from one another.
And we have all internalized at some level a deep sense of trauma that we are still trying to process—perhaps a greater trauma than even we realize.
In today’s gospel, we encounter a similarly traumatized person: a woman who had suffered from a debilitating hemorrhage for twelve years. As a result, she had been shut-in at home because she was made ritually unclean, a pariah in the community. And not only she was made untouchable, but anything or anyone she touched would have become unclean as well.
Everything she had tried had failed. No physician could help. And so by now she was desperate: alone, isolated, and afraid.
But somehow—and this is the real miracle in the story—somehow, even in the midst of her own trauma, she was able to reach down deep inside of herself and to find there a kernel of hope. There was still one more thing to try: to find Jesus, even just to touch the hem of his garment. As she says to herself, “If I but touch his clothes, I will be made well.”
Now, her statement is more powerful than comes across in the English translation. The word that lies behind “be made well” is, in the Greek, derived from the same word that means “savior,” or to be “saved,” or to be “made whole.” What she is really saying is, “If I but touch his clothes, I will be made whole again, a complete human being.” Not just healed of a disease, but made whole, her dignity restored. And we should not underestimate her courage in choosing this course: it deliberately violated many social norms of the day, and so took an incredible amount of determination and even chutzpah on her part.
And isn’t that what we most long for today, also to have the courage and determination to be made whole again, to move past our fears and losses, and to claim a world being made new after so many of its previous fault lines have been revealed?
But before we can do that, there is the trauma of these past sixteen months to be dealt with. And it’s not just the pandemic that has traumatized us, but also all that happened in and around it that has shaken us to the core. The anger of last summer’s street demonstrations. The violence of the assault on the Congress. The loneliness experienced at the deaths of loved ones who could not be properly memorialized. The acrid smell of hot smoky skies. The songs that could not be sung, the plays not performed.
But as the woman with the hemorrhage discovered, it is out of the most difficult of situations, that our greatest healing can occur—the same inextinguishable determination of which James Baldwin speaks when he wrote, “my God, in that darkness, which was the lot of my ancestors and my own state, what a mighty fire burned!” Like his forebears, and like the woman of today’s gospel, our own healing will take reaching deep within ourselves to find that seed of beauty and dignity that has not and cannot be crushed, which can germinate into something new and sound, where we thought there was only decay and brokenness. That is what our songs of sorrow and songs of trust are meant to help us to do today: to name our sharpest pain, yes, but also to find our deepest hope by trusting in the mercy and compassion of Jesus. “If I but touch the hem of his garment …”
A parishioner sent me a quotation from the Roshi Joan Halifax this week, which sums up what I’ve been saying, using the image of a lotus flower. So let me close with her words:
It is said that the lotus flower will not grow in pure water and can only bloom fed by the mud of decay. So too our collective trauma, brokenness, delusions, moral suffering, and pain can, ironically, be the very means for our awakening. [And so,] each day, let us awaken to transform ourselves, our communities, our nation, and our world with wisdom and compassion.
Let it be so. Amen.