June 9, 2016
Bishop Jonathan D. Keaton
Illness, death and resurrection surfaced in the movie entitled The Young Messiah. The movie is a fictional account of Jesus’ life at age seven. In one instance, Jesus healed Cleopas using the healing waters of the Jordan River. Years later, this same Cleopas failed to recognize Jesus on the road to Emmaus. Elsewhere in the film, tragedy overtook a young boy. He fell, hit his head on a rock and died on the spot. All the young Messiah had to say was “Get Up.” And the boy rose from the dead. His resurrection was a hallelujah moment in the film. However, it was a figment of the writer’s imagination.
Healing stories in Mark’s gospel are not fictive. They are real, not imagined. A man asks Jesus to heal his daughter. She dies, but our Lord raises her up. Without permission, a woman hemorrhaging for twelve years touches the hem of his garment and receives healing instantly. She is no longer the same.
Typically, our experiences with life and death do not parallel these two stories. A crowd saw Lazarus get up, but we didn’t. A house full of worshipers witnessed the healing of the paralytic let down through the roof get up, but we didn’t. Peter knelt down in prayer at the bedside of a dead and gone woman and said, “Tabitha, Get Up.” Tabitha opened her eyes and got up to shouts of joy. We’ve lived routine lives devoid of these kinds of miracles happening to us. Maybe, we are left to ponder the stories of Jesus as teaching narratives about healing, death and resurrection. I know, “we’ll understand it better by and by.” Until then, we are required to wait for that Great Getting Up Morning. The trump’ shall sound. And the Lord will appear. Some folk will be caught up and meet him in the air. Others will spring forth to new life at the divine utterance of two words, namely “Get Up.”
“Get up” describes the life of a synagogue leader in Mark 5. On staff, we see a busy man directing and leading the spiritual and temporal life of a large Jewish synagogue. People meet for worship, fellowship and Bible Study. Pastoral care, self-help groups schools and a few businesses dominate his daily routine. Think of a multi-purpose synagogue with space to address the needs of its congregants. Think of scads of people with many needs and problems drawing on the gifts and graces of this committed leader.
“Get up” epitomizes a day in the life of Jairus working at home. Jairus’ twelve-year old daughter is sick. Not only that, she is dying. Home remedies fail her. The best doctors in town can do no more. Worship services in the synagogue rehearse God’s love and mercy for the people of God, but deliverance walks by his daughter. Waiting on the Lord becomes more uncomfortable as his daughter’s condition worsens. Desperate, Jairus begins thinking about another religious leader who had probably visited his synagogue and engaged folks in Disciple Bible Study. This religious leader has a reputation of working miracles, e.g. changing water into wine, feeding the 5,000 and raising Lazarus from the grave. Asking this religious renegade for help poses a great problem for the synagogue leader. Why? Most of his Jewish colleagues disassociate themselves from this Galilean. He espouses some beliefs not consistent with Judaism. He connects with poor folk, Samaritans, and gentiles. He speaks to women in public. Like his religious counterparts, Jairus is expected to have no dealings with our Lord. But his daughter is dying.
Hearing that Jesus had just arrived in town, Jairus left the bedside of his daughter and walked away from his seat in the synagogue and found Jesus. In an absolute act of faith, the leader of the synagogue got down on his knees and passionately begged our Lord to come lay hands on his daughter so she might be healed and live. Some of the Jews who had come to the synagogue leader for aid and support saw him on his knees begging Jesus for help. Not jettisoning help from his Jewish tradition, Jairus sought aid from a religious leader with a proven track record. Apparently, Jairus had the faith of a grain of a mustard seed. And Christ is moved. In other words, a non-Christian leader demonstrated what Christians forget sometimes. Faith is a better medicine than laughter. “We have not because we ask not.” Because of his faith based plea, our Lord agreed to go see Jairus’ daughter and heal her.
It’s true; we do not always get what we want no matter how much we pray or how hard we pray. Death and dying still occur. Nevertheless, Jesus is moved by authentic intercessory prayer. The book of James is correct, “the prayers of the righteous availeth much” (James 5:16). Even though your loved one is gone; keep praying. Christ desires and wants the kind of intimacy with his children that arises from unsolvable daily crises that reveal our need for God’s help. Hold on to what you’ve learned in this process of a beloved’s illness, dying and death, death and dying. Our help comes from the Lord. Countless times, I’ve said, “my grandmother’s death was the straw that broke my resistance to answering the call to ministry. It was answered prayer that I had not sought while lamenting the death of my beloved grandmother.
In 1999, Oprah Winfrey interviewed Montel Williams. Williams had been diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis, a chronic, debilitating disease affecting the brain and spinal cord. Williams told Oprah that he experienced pain from his shins to his feet, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, for ten years. Now, another seventeen years has been added to that total. “Diet, exercise, medication and a psychiatric professional have helped Montel cope with bouts of depression and life itself. Faith is not mentioned in his story, but I don’t see how Montel can get along without it. Frustration and great faith come to mind when I think about the synagogue leader, the crowd, and Jesus’ encounter with an ill woman enroute to the house of Jairus.
Her life is marked by a living death. Twelve years of hemorrhages caused pain, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. It meant the death of her social life. Her body won’t cooperate. All her money has been spent on doctors. Her economic status and health have vanished. Not even Medicare was available. Worse still, Mark’s gospel indicated the woman says that she was worse off than before. Her mental peace and hope-filled attitude took a direct hit as well. To a small degree, the woman might as well be dead or confined to a maximum security prison. This sick woman is enchained by circumstances she cannot change. Plus, it’s virtually impossible to stop thinking about her desperate situation unless something else or someone else gives her another reason “to keep hope alive.”
Then, she heard that Jesus was passing by. Her mind started recalling what folks said about him, that he was a way maker, a burden bearer, a bridge over troubled water indeed a miracle worker who opened blind eyes, commanded paralytics to walk, cast out demons, and healed a woman bent over for 18 years. Something within said, “Get up.” So, she reasoned, “If I can just touch the hem of his garment, I do believe, I will be made well.” With wall-to-wall pain racking her body, this woman fought her way through the crowd and touched the hem of Jesus’ garment and was made well. Called out by the Master to identify herself as the one who touched him, Jesus said, “Daughter, your faith has made you well. Go in peace, and be healed of your disease.”
However long your loved one has been gone; the tenacity of your faith in Jesus Christ is key to making it through. Christ did not give the woman that faith. Rather, her faith was formed, shaped and crystalized facing life’s challenges, especially the last twelve years. She had learned “to keep hope alive” even as life gave her a good beating. In the verse of scripture preceding his famous “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me,” Paul acknowledges the hard work of faith formation. Philippians 4:11b states: “I have learned in whatever state I am to be content.” His faith is learned via his conversion and suffering accompanying his ministry, namely shipwrecks, beatings, stonings, imprisonments, illnesses, hostile church members, hunger, homelessness, etc. But he kept the faith.
The woman’s faith carried her a lot of years before she touched the hem of his garment and met the Master. Her faith informed the crowd. Regardless of their dilemmas, they could see woman’s faith experience replicated in their own lives. A woman bent over for 18 years, ten lepers healed, and the man who lay by the pool of Bethesda for 38 years had to do the hard work of faith formation in order to survive, to hold on. Then, the miraculous happened. This woman confirmed that God can and will get you through this hard time of grief and pain due to the death of your loved one. So did one songwriter: “Be not dismayed whate’er betide God will take care of you.” “Get up” fit the faith of a woman who took the initiative to touch the hem of his garment. In response, Jesus said, “Your faith has made you well.”
The late Martin Luther King, Jr said often, “For every Good Friday, there is an Easter. True, but all Easters aren’t equal. How so? When Jairus’ daughter, Lazarus and Jesus died; Easter came in days or hours. With our loved ones, Easter won’t happen until the end of history, resurrection day. To be sure, Jairus was spared a long wait. But he was not spared the shock of getting the news about his daughter. Somebody met them on the road and said, “Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the teacher?” In essence, you don’t need Jesus now. Nothing could be further from the truth. Jesus directed Jairus not to give in to fear, but to believe in him. Had Jairus not obeyed our Lord I’m convinced he would have lost it, then and there.
Something like that occurred in Rockford, Illinois about thirty-five years ago. During a volunteer chaplaincy at one of the hospitals, I saw a young couple display profound grief in ER. Accompanied by a grandmother, they had arrived with their SIDS baby. I can’t erase those chaotic moments from my mind. Wails and moans pierced the ER. With the wringing of hands and holding one another, why God questions were directed at the medical staff and the Protestant Chaplain (me), and we had no good answers. The loss, the moaning, the tears nearly swept me away. Then, the grandmother requested a Roman Catholic Chaplain. “No chaplain was available but me,” I replied. She looked me directly in the eye saying, “I want this baby baptized.” Immediately, things calmed down. I found water. We gathered around the dead baby as if the baby was alive. As the young couple and the grandmother laid hands on the baby, I baptized the child in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. In the ER, we welcomed the child into the membership of Christ’s holy church as a full member. Later, I mailed the grandmother the baptismal certificate. No, there was no resurrection. Yet, the grandmother and the young couple went out into the night with a sense of consolation. Left behind was no baby victimized by SIDS. Their precious child had entered into the full membership of Christ’s Holy Church through the rite of baptism. Baptizing the baby helped them to not give in to fear.
Without much fanfare, Christ went into the house of Jairus accompanied by three disciples and the girl’s parents. Jesus took the girl by the hand and said, “Get Up.” And she did. Strangely enough, Christ admonished them to tell no one what happened. Why? It seemed like a time to celebrate and/or have a party like witnessed in Luke 15. Rejoicing in heaven and on earth took place when one lost sheep, one lost coin and one lost son were found. Maybe our Lord tempered the enthusiasm because the little girl’s resurrection was but a reprieve from another earthly death later. Eventually, the widow’s son at Nain, Lazarus and Jairus and his daughter ended where your loved ones are now, dead and awaiting resurrection day. Until our summons comes to that innumerable caravan of death, William Cullen Bryant says we need “an unfaltering trust (in God) to “so live” or “keep on keeping on.””
There have been worst tragedies and perhaps wiser words spoken in the face of death, but the lyrics of Horatio Spafford still touch me as does the twenty-third Psalm. You know the story. This rich young Chicago lawyer loses his real estate fortune in the great Chicago Fire. Two years later, the family schedules a vacation in Europe. Last minute business delays Spafford’s departure with the family, yet he sends his wife and four daughters on the way. Another ship hits Villa De Havre and 226 people drown including his four daughters: Annie 11, Maggie 9, Elizabeth 5, and Tanetta 2. His wife survives. But they are devastated. On their return to America, the ship passes over the area where his daughters lost their lives. Convicted, Horatio descends the stairs of the ship and composes an affirmation of faith that has lifted people undergoing bereavement for over 100 years. At the moment of composition, there is no music to hum, just the words of faith to feed on. “Whatever my lot, thou hast taught me to say, it is well. It is well with my soul.” Annie, Maggie, Elizabeth and Tanetta are gone. Yet, Horatio’s triumphant faith says it is well with my soul. His daughters are safe in the arms of Jesus and his wife safe in his arms. “Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come, let this blest assurance control, that Christ hath regarded my helpless estate, and hath shed his own blood for my soul. It is well. It is well with my soul.” In loss, grief and death, Horatio Spafford remains triumphant because of his faith in Jesus Christ.
Maybe, the main thing Christ demonstrated in the woman who had an issue of blood and the death of Jairus’ daughter is an unfailing commitment to work on the nature and depth of our faith. We’re not just marching to Zion. We’re not just joining William Cullen Bryant’s “innumerable caravan of death.” We’re not just singing “It is well.” We’re on our way to that Great Getting Up Morning. On that day, Christ will call us to “Get Up.” He will wipe every tear from our eyes… “mourning, crying and death will be no more” for the former things will have passed away. Get up, there will be no more night (in the city of God)…no need for light of lamp or sun…for the Lord God will be our light, and we shall reign forever and ever. Hallelujah. Amen.