SERMON PREACHED BY FR. TONY NOBLE ON SUNDAY JUNE 28th 2009
Mark 5: 43 “He strictly charged them that no one should know this”.
Jairus was a man truly blessed. His daughter of twelve years of age had died – but Jesus brought her back to life. When all was lost, life was restored.
Jesus said that she was just sleeping – and they all laughed! I’ve never known laughter at the death of a child. It was, of course, the mockery of those who would not believe.
In my ministry of almost 30 years as a priest, there have been two girls at about the age of Jairus’ daughter who have died in tragic circumstances.
Five years ago a girl from our school, Sophia, was hit by an unlicensed driver. She was in a coma in hospital and we kept vigil with her for weeks – her family, her teachers, her classmates. Her funeral here was enormous, and was a mixture of tears and fond recollections and memories – but mainly it was one huge cry to God in heaven.
It was much like what I spoke about in my sermon last week – when I referred to those occasions when we might say “Lord, don’t you care?” As I reflect upon Sophia I hope that her classmates know how blessed they are to be alive.
I also think of Fiona – an adventurous girl whom I prepared for confirmation 27 years ago in my first parish and mission in Adelaide, Australia. She was a little bit naughty on occasions, but very enthusiastic about the Church. She became an acolyte and served for me on Sunday mornings, Sunday evenings, and during the week. She eventually brought her mother to be confirmed. At age twelve Fiona was raped and killed, and left in a ditch within walking distance of that church. Her mother Yvonne still carries that enormous burden of pain and loss.
The death of a child is something we all feel is wrong. It’s not just about a life being cut short, but also about a person being the pride and joy of their parents, with all the hopes that it brings, and of someone who should be the companion to their parents in their later years.
Such grief about the death of a child is perhaps the most hardest and extreme form of suffering that we know. Any suffering perplexes us. All of us have suffered personally, or through someone that we love.
In last week’s sermon I spoke of those times when we cry: “Lord, do you not care? We are sinking” – a common and natural reaction to a hopeless and painful situation.
But when it comes to sickness and real pain like death, we don’t just want the Lord to care about us…….we want him to heal us – just like he healed that twelve year old daughter of Jairus.
For many in our society it is not physical healing that they need, for sometimes, for that can be easy to do through doctors, nurses, and other others. Many people suffer from a pain that is not physical, but mental. We see them on our streets and in our hospitals: It is perhaps the great illness of our society along with addiction.
This is what the Psalmist calls a troubled spirit. Psalm 51 begins: “Have mercy on me O Lord, according to thy loving kindness” – a cry for God’s blessing. And then we read in verse 18: “The sacrifice of God is a troubled spirit, a broken and contrite heart O God, thou wilt not despise”.
The Psalmist suggests that this troubled spirit is the ultimate sacrifice accepted by God with perfect love. That he embraces this suffering of a troubled spirit, just like he embraced and accepted the ultimate sacrifice of Our Lord Jesus Christ on the Cross.
In this church of All Saints’, the Crucifix high above the altar dominates everything – it points us to what happened on the Cross, when Jesus became the ultimate sacrifice that not only takes our sins and the sins of all the world away. But also in that sacrifice He offers up our pains and sorrows to the throne of God himself. That being united with Our Lord in his sacrifice we might in our troubles know the power of his resurrection.
But for some people, to offer it up does not bring comfort or healing. These are purely words that have no power. We all respond in various ways to sickness, and pain, and suffering.
Anger is one reaction to pain – particularly in the grief of the death of a loved one. Psalm 39 is a classic example. It begins: “I’ll be watchful of my ways lest I sin with my tongue” – but mmediately there follows a note of anger: “The prosperity of the wicked stired my grief, my heart was burning within me; at the thought of it the fire blazed up and my tongue burst into speech”.
All through the Psalms we find this mixture of anger and joy, of praise and regret. Can today’s Gospel, with this profound miracle, give us some clarity on the perplexing matter of pain and sickness, which we all go through at some stage?
Perhaps in Mark’s Gospel we will find something to look for, somewhere between accepting ones lot in resignation, or escaping from it by living perfectly, or living in a fantasy world. Firstly there is the contrast between the crowd who go from weeping and wailing, to laughter and derision.
And by contrast, there is the personal scene as Jesus takes the child’s father and mother and those trusted three, Peter, James, and John, into her room. And he takes her hand and commands her “Arise”. The contrast between the crowd with their so human reactions and the personal intimate healing of Jesus is a wonderful contrast.
To Our Blessed Lord, of course, she is indeed only asleep. As we shall be on that great day when he takes our hand and says “Arise”. For Christians ultimately the sleep of death wakes in glory. This miracle was both an image and prophecy, and a portent of Jesus’ resurrection – and therefore of our own.
I am sure that however troubled those parents were in spirit, their amazement turned to rejoicing and gladness in that room. What we see here in this wonderful account is the Lord of life revealing the power of his own resurrection through raising this child. In our deepest suffering he comes to us also in the power of his resurrection.
But if this is so, what of this command to not tell anyone what had happened? Why not shout it from the rooftops that the Lord had risen someone from the dead? You will notice that it is Peter, James, and John that he says this too.
The same three apostles who were on Mount Tabor with him and saw his marvelous Transfiguration, when his divine glory was revealed in splendour. On that occasion they were charged not to say anything about what they saw, until after he had risen from the dead.
Why would Jesus do this on both of these occasions? Obviously because people would get the wrong idea or misunderstand. Jesus had not come to earth to do magic tricks in the clouds, or be a worker of healing miracles.
No – Jesus’ purpose was much bigger than this. Saint Paul declares it in 2 Corinthians 8:9: “Though he was rich, yet for our sake he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich”
WE might become rich.
Saint Paul refers to the riches we receive as poor sinners who are forgiven by his grace, and through his triumph on the Cross.
Jesus told Peter, James, and John, not to talk about the Transfiguration until after his esurrection. Because of what they were to go through. They went through pain and loss, suffering and troubled spirits.
Then after the resurrection, after they had been through the fire of their failures and desertions, and knew the pain of a troubled spirit – then Jesus met them on the shore with a fire burning.
On that day after his resurrection he broke the bread, and brought them from death to life, from pain to joy – in the same way that he still does when he breaks the bread for us in this wonderful sacrament of the Eucharist – which is the ultimate sign and sacrament of his healing lo