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  • The Rev. Dr. Brian Rajcok

Christ’s Healing Touch

Mark 5:21-43

I recently read the story of a therapy dog named Elsa. Elsa and her owner Sharon would visit hospitals and nursing homes to comfort patients. Sharon tells the story of one particular day when they knocked on the door of a hospital room and found a woman in a coma. Her family was there and insisted that they come in. They shared that their mother had always loved dogs and asked if Elsa could go on the bed with her. So Elsa nestled up close to her and before long the woman lifted her fingers and started petting Elsa’s foot. Sharon and the woman’s family were stunned. They asked Sharon to move Elsa to the other side and let her lay closer to the woman’s face. Elsa then gave the woman the smallest little lick on her cheek. Sharon wrote, “I’m still trying to process what happened next: The lady quickly opened her eyes and began to speak. We couldn’t understand what she was saying but she was telling us something. I looked over at the family and they were crying and in shock. They couldn’t stop thanking us and before we left we all took a photo together. Elsa loves doing visits and seems to have a sixth sense for knowing what people need, this moment was particularly special.”

That’s an incredible healing story brought about by the touch of an animal. A patient waking up from coma to the licks of a friendly dog. Pet therapy is becoming more and more respected as an effective treatment for people in hospitals and nursing homes. Whether for elderly people who are lonely or people with depression or anxiety, or even those with autism. And it’s not just animal touch that is beneficial for our health. A lot of research shows that human touch, when used appropriately and lovingly, can be just as beneficial to our health.

It's no surprise then that so many of Jesus’ healings involved touch. He did heal at a distance at times too, which we’ll see in other healing stories in the Gospels. But I think it’s important that these two early healings involved his touch. Because touch is personal and makes a connection. Touch is literally the physical feeling of being connected. Touch can be both gentle and powerful at the same time. And it is certainly a means God uses to heal, to restore, to bring life.

There are many similarities in these two healing stories. Besides the fact that they both involve touch, there’s also the fact that 12 years is mentioned in both—the woman has been hemorrhaging for 12 years and the girl is 12 years old. There’s the fact that both Jairus and the unnamed woman fall down at Jesus’ feet. Then there’s the fact that he heals Jairus’ daughter and also calls the unnamed woman “daughter”. It’s clear that both are beloved daughters of God. And there’s one difference that should catch our attention too. It’s the fact that with the unnamed woman touches Jesus’ cloak and apparently is content to have the healing be anonymous and not bother him. But Jesus draws attention to her action, to her faith, and draws her into relationship. He turns a personal miracle into a public one. On the other hand, with the girl’s healing there’s a crowd outside and Jesus only allows in a few close followers and the girl’s parents. He turns a public miracle into a personal one. The miracle that would have been private and anonymous, Jesus brings attention to. And the miracle that could have been a public scene, Jesus downplayed and told those who witnessed it to not tell anyone about it.

The healing touch of Christ is both private and public. Both personal and social. The way he heals us involves both personal, inner healing and more noticeable outer healing. When I think of modern healing stories of those touched by Christ I think of powerful testimony of Eric Clapton who experienced tremendous healing in the midst of the darkness of addiction. Clapton, who by the way is the only three time inductee to the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame, reports that he had an experience of the healing touch of God when he was at rock-bottom in rehab for addiction to drugs and alcohol. In his autobiography he writes:

“I was absolutely terrified, in complete despair. At that moment, almost of their own accord, my legs gave way and I fell to my knees. In the privacy of my room I begged for help. I had no notion who I thought I was talking to, I just knew that I had come to the end of my tether. I had nothing left to fight with. Then I remembered what I had heard about surrender, something I thought I could never do, my pride just wouldn’t allow it, but I knew that on my own I wasn’t going to make it, so I asked for help, and, getting down on my knees, I surrendered. Within a few days I realized that something had happened for me. An atheist would probably say it was just a change of attitude, and to a certain extent that’s true, but there was much more to it than that. I had found a place to turn to, a place I’d always known was there but never really wanted, or needed, to believe in. From that day until this, I have never failed to pray in the morning, on my knees, asking for help, and at night, to express gratitude for my life, and, most of all, for my sobriety.”

Like Jairus and the unnamed woman, Clapton got on his knees and begged for help. And like the woman who touched Jesus’ cloak, Eric Clapton was not only healed of his disease but also “made well,” set right in his relationship with God. As we see from all these instances, the touch of Christ can heal, can make well, can bring a person out of the depths and set them on a better path in life.

Yet such wonderful healings don’t always happen in the world. In fact, it seems, for every one healing story there’s ten tragedies about those who weren’t healed, who weren’t made well, who weren’t brought on the path to wholeness. I’m sure every person in this room has had certain moments when we’ve been left wondering where the touch of Christ was when we or our loved ones needed it most.

It can be hard to hear stories of God’s miraculous healing power when there are people we know who didn’t get the healing they prayed for. Or when we think of those praying for such healing right now. It really begs the question: why do some get healing and others apparently don’t? When a loved one dies unexpectedly or tragically young, or when a frightening diagnosis comes across, or when a relationship suddenly ends—where is the touch of Christ then? When we experience trauma or abuse or depression or addiction—where is the healing touch of Christ then? When our world is so full of war and violence, hatred and racism, wealth inequality and corruption—where is the healing touch of Christ then? When we pray for healing and peace and harmony, and nothing seems to change—where is the healing touch of Christ then?

These are fair questions to ask. And there’s really no satisfactory answers to them. Sometimes it seems God acts to miraculously heal some, and at other times it seems like God does not. And to be honest, we simply don’t know why some are healed and others are not. Why some experience healing and others seem to endure endless suffering. But what we do know is that, even when we’re suffering the most, Christ is with us in our suffering. Even for those who’ve lost a loved one after praying unceasingly for their recovery, Christ is with you in your grief. Even for those enduring illness and pain and hardship, Christ is with you in your trouble. Even for those lost in doubt and despair, Christ is with you in your struggles.

We know this because Christ not only healed those who were suffering, he also suffered himself, and willingly bore the suffering of the world, and entered straight into the heart of suffering on the cross. Jesus suffers with us in the midst of the trials of this life. Sometimes it may seem like God miraculously chooses to heal some and is completely absent to others—but we must never forget: Christ is present in healing, and Christ is present in suffering.

It is indeed a mystery why such horrible things happen to the people God loves. But what is made clear to us in scripture is that in our suffering God is with us. And the healing touch of Christ is at work in the world. No matter what evil we may encounter, we know that Christ suffers with us and for us, calls us to bear our neighbors’ burdens and be present to those who are suffering, and promises to set the whole world free from our bondage to sin, suffering, and evil.

In the meantime, we live in a world where healing and suffering coexist. In a world where stories of healing give us hope. Like those of Jairus’ daughter and the unnamed woman in Mark’s Gospel. Like those of Eric Clapton and the pet therapy dog Elsa. And we long for the day when all the world will be healed and restored. When suffering and pain will be no more. When mourning and crying and pain will be no more. When Christ’s healing touch reaches all of our wounds, cleanses us, heals us, and make us whole. And until that day we can rest assured that Christ is with us—in times of healing and in times of suffering—walking with us through life and guiding us to the end. Thanks be to God for Christ’s presence in the midst of it all.

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Pastor Brian | June 30, 2024 | Sixth Sunday after Pentecost

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