Sunday, July 1, 2012

Pentecost 5, Series B

Sermon on Mark 5:21-43
For Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Elmwood Park, WI
July 1, 2012 (The Fifth Sunday after Pentecost, Series B)

Today’s Gospel lesson has to do with two women, both of whom were, in their own way, dead.  The little girl is obvious.  She’s just plain dead, and dead is dead.  She’s assumed room temperature, stopped breathing, and all of that.  But in what sense is the other woman dead?  After all, she’s still walking around, talking.  She is still a patient of several doctors, and once you assume room temperature, the only sort of doctor who will have anything to do with you is the guy who might perform an autopsy on you.  Other than that, you’re now cared for by the undertaker, not the doctor.  But I said before that this woman is dead.  How so?

Well, her condition is one that basically cuts her off from the religious life of God’s people.  You see, this was a “womanly” flow of blood, if you know what I mean.  And according to the law of Moses, during that sort of flow, a woman was considered ritually unclean and was not supposed to go to the temple.  Also contact with a woman who was experiencing that sort of flow also made a person ritually unclean, so observant Jews (including those who were regularly at the Synagogue on the Sabbath) would avoid contact with a woman during this time period.  Part of the reason the Law of Moses was set up this way, by the way, was because the shedding of blood was indicative of death, and therefore a reminder of the fallenness of this old world, even though the woman herself was in no way at fault for this.  In this particular woman’s case, however, things were a lot more serious than that.  This flow of blood wasn’t part of the normal cycle of things.  It was continuous, and had been so for twelve years.  And that’s bad enough.  It indicates a serious health problem, and would be the cause for a lot of consternation and many doctor’s visits and ever more serious and intrusive tests and medications and procedures, even today.  But it also meant that this woman had been ritually unclean for twelve solid years, unable to go to the Temple and even unwelcome at the Synagogue.  And so, as far as the religious life of God’s people was concerned, it was as if this woman were dead, even though her condition was not her fault.  She had still been touched by the death that reigns in this old world and thus was unclean and unable to cleanse herself.

But Jesus heals them both.  The little girl’s resurrection is pretty straightforward.  Jesus says to her, “Get up,” and she gets up.  God’s word does what it says.  This is the sort of “commandment” that is not Law but Gospel.  The girl, being dead, has no ability to get up, but the Word gives what it commands, and she gets up, and is alive again.  The woman merely touches the hem of Jesus’ garment, and she is healed from her flow of blood, and from the religious death that it had imposed on her.  More importantly, as Jesus points out, her faith saves her (the word translated “made you well” is actually the Greek word “to save”).  Her trust in Jesus as the Messiah gives her the eternal life won by Him for her, and for us, on the cross, and the healing of whatever malfunction in her body had been causing this flow of blood, is a sign of the complete healing and restoration she will enjoy with Him and us in heaven.

There are still a couple of strange things going on in today’s Gospel, however, that I really ought to mention.  The first is that Jesus says the girl isn’t really dead but sleeping.  Of course, she’s dead.  But to God, death is no obstacle.  The grave is not our final destination.  Actually, the English word we use to describe the place where graves are kept, is a reminder of this.  The word cemetery originally comes from the Greek word for “resting place,” or sleeping place.  It’s a word that reminds us that all will be raised to life again, and so from the perspective of eternity, death isn’t as permanent as we often tend to think it is.  And that’s the case here as well.  The girl is sleeping in the sense that Jesus, the Lord of life and death, the one who is immortal but who will die in our place and therefore will rise again in our place, is the one who is caring for her.  He is the true physician, who takes our death into Himself and heals us of it, eternally.

The other strange thing is that when the woman touches the hem of His garment, He feels “power” go out of Him.  It’s not like He isn’t aware of what is happening.  His healing power can’t be manipulated by people who pull it from Him unwillingly.  Rather, He knows what has happened, and has graciously allowed it.  It’s interesting, isn’t it, that when a woman who had been losing blood is healed, Jesus feels something go out of Him.  Remember that Jesus doesn’t just make sin and its effects disappear.  He takes them to the cross.  A flow of blood is healed by a flow of power.  This also is a reminder to us.  The flow of power from Jesus to heal us and give us eternity is enabled by a flow of blood.  The power to be forgiven of all our sins and live forever before Him in righteousness, innocence, and blessedness, comes from the flow of blood and water out of Jesus’ side.  The blood that flows from His wounds heals our wounds.  The flow of blood from His side is where the Church is born.  The bleeding and dying of the Son of God gives us freedom from sin and death.  We are washed in that blood, we are drenched in it whenever the Word returns us to our baptismal death and resurrection.  We take it inside of us as we eat and drink it every Sunday.  The blood that flowed out of Him flows into us and gives us forgiveness, life, and salvation.  The power that flows out of Him flows into us and gives us eternity, with Him, forever.  Go in peace, your faith has saved you.  Amen.

+ Soli Deo Gloria +

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