The Right Reverend Dr. Craig B. Anderson, Rector
Good morning, and welcome back. The snow that we have been praying for throughout the winter term finally arrived last night—a bit late. I was struck this morning as I walked to Chapel with the admixture of seasons—the beauty of the new fallen snow, the warmth of the sun, the music of spring songbirds. Today and this week is an admixture of liturgical seasons as well. Yesterday, in churches throughout the world, the blessing of the palms marked Palm Sunday or Passion Sunday and the beginning of Holy Week as a prelude to Eastertide and a conclusion of Lent. Today we also anticipate the beginning of Passover on Thursday.
She was born on a farm in Bow, New Hampshire in the year 1821 and was an invalid most of her life. But, in 1866, she had a revelation—a revelation that changed her life personally and brought with it a particular vocation. At the turn of the twentieth century, the popular magazine Human Life reported that, “she was the most famous, interesting, and powerful woman in America, if not the world.” She overcame many obstacles to become an acclaimed author, publisher, and religious leader whose legacy is still felt today. In 1995, she was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame for “making an indelible mark on society, religion, and journalism.” She was a woman ahead of her time. She pioneered new ideas about spirituality, and her research and experience led to the discovery of a system of healing that she named Christian Science. She wrote and published a book, Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures; she broke new ground in the understanding of mind, body, spirit, and their relationship in terms of wholeness and health. She went on to found a college, a church, a publishing enterprise, and the Christian Science Monitor, one of the most respected newspapers in the world and the winner of six Pulitzer prizes. She was Mary Baker Eddy, a local Bow, New Hampshire native; commemorated by a plaque a short distance from here on Pleasant Street, which you have probably seen on your way to downtown Concord in front of what is now Pleasant View Retirement Center.
While I do not embrace Christian Science, Mary Baker Eddy does illustrate what I would like to reflect on with you in light of the lessons that we just heard this morning. The subject of those readings is that of healing. I think it is appropriate for us to consider this aspect of wellness for several reasons.
First, it relates to a theme that we have been exploring as a School and attempting to live throughout the course of this academic year—health, wholeness, and the inter-relatedness of body, soul, mind, and spirit. Second, I think it is important because this is the beginning of Holy Week, a time when we look for healing and reconciliation at the end of our Lenten journey in anticipation of Easter and the Resurrection. Third, because healing is something we all have need of and what we pray for here in the Chapel daily for individuals and those who need healing, strength, and for those who have died. Fourth, in the wake of September 11, we pray for healing for our nation and between nations. The Reverend Canon Tony Campbell has just returned from Jerusalem, a dangerous place, or as he described it this morning as we were vesting, “a scary place.” We pray for the peace of Jerusalem.
Rather than talking about healing in general terms, I would like to talk about Jesus—Jesus as a healer and healing as a ministry that is often neglected in the Church. In so doing, I invite your attention to the second lesson read this morning from the Gospel of Mark, and a few words about Mark and how this particular portion of the first chapter relates to the ministry of Jesus. Mark is the earliest, or the oldest, of the synoptic gospels. It does not begin with the birth of Jesus; it begins with an account of Jesus being baptized by John, driven into the wilderness for forty days and tempted by the devil. In the course of that forty-day wilderness experience, which calls to mind for us the season of Lent and our own sense of wilderness and temptation, something interesting happens—angels come to Jesus and minister to him, heal him in a sense, restore him, sustain him, strengthen him, and support him.
Jesus comes out of the wilderness, we are told in Mark’s gospel, and the first thing that he does at the beginning of his ministry is to gather about him a community, an adopted family, if you will, his disciples. He then goes to Capernaum and announces, “The kingdom has come among you.” He utters this prophetic word and then enters the synagogue and he teaches those gathered the meaning of this prophesy. We read in Mark’s gospel that he did so with authority. Finally, in the midst of that teaching, a person possessed with a demon cries out and Jesus healed him, exorcised the demon that possessed him.
So, in the space of a few short verses we have a preface for this morning’s less from Mark:
… and as soon as they left the synagogue in Capernaum, they entered the house of Simon and Andrew with James and John, persons that Jesus had called. Now Simon’s
mother-in-law was in bed with a fever and they told him about her, and he came at once
and he took her by the hand and lifted her up, and the fever left her and she began to
serve them. That evening at sundown, they brought to him all that were sick or possessed
with demons, and the whole city was gathered around the door. He cured many who were
sick with various diseases and cast out many demons.
Jesus was seen as a prophet and is known as a teacher, a Rabbi. But the primary way that Jesus announced this new kingdom and new reality was by healing people, and in the course of that healing, allowed them to experience what Mary Baker Eddy had experienced—a transformation of their lives, a revelation, a new orientation, a wholeness, an integration, a reconciliation of that which was torn apart, torn asunder, diseased, and sick unto death.
When Jesus leaves his disciples at the conclusion of Mark’s gospel, such healing does not end. That is what the first lesson from the book of Acts is about, because after Jesus leaves, he breathes on his disciples the gift of the Holy Spirit and charges them to heal others, and that is exactly what happens in this morning’s reading from the Acts of the Apostles:
Now, many signs and wonders were done among the people through the apostles
And they were all together in Solomon’s portico. None of the rest of them dared to
Join, but the people held them in high esteem. Yet more than ever, believers were
Added to the Lord, great numbers of both men and women so that they were carried,
Even the sick into the streets and laid them on cots and mats in order that Peter’s
Shadow, just his shadow, might form on some of them as he came by. A great
Number of people would gather from towns around Jerusalem, bringing the sick
And those tormented by unclean spirits, and they were all cured.
And it doesn’t end there. The ministry of healing in the Church and in all religions is central to spirituality and salvation. It happens here at the School and it happens, I know, in your lives as well. Unfortunately, sometimes healing is associated with sawdust and charlatans and the stuff of religious revivals—something Episcopalians abhor!
This morning it is important to realize that, as we begin our journey into Holy Week, healing is something that is important to all of us regardless of our religious persuasion. It has to do with that part deep within each of us that we call the spirit, the transcendent, and the numinous, that which helps us understand the relationship of body, soul, and mind. Yes, healing is something that we all need. Jesus knew that; and in the course of his ministry as he traveled about, he gained the reputation of being a healer. People came to him seeking wholeness, seeking holiness, and seeking health. He embodied such holiness; he was the incarnation of wholeness. But, here is a surprising fact—at the beginning of Holy Week, which we celebrated yesterday, Jesus enters Jerusalem in triumph given that reputation. He is hailed as King, palm branches are spread before him, garments are laid at his feet, and he is anticipated to be the political savior, the healer of the nation. He is anticipated as the religious savior of a downtrodden people. But, within the course of a short week, that adulation, that praise, turns to denial, turns to betrayal, turns to mocking him, and, finally, turns to a cry to crucify him.
Yet, in the course of that week and in the course of all of those horrible things that were happening to Jesus, he took time to heal individuals who were ill; he reached out to those who were sick and he touched them; he spoke a word; he cast his gaze upon them and in that touch, in that connection, they were made whole. He was the living archetype of the “wounded healer.”
We are called to be healers, we are called in this age to a deeper recognition that, while there are clergy in the Church, medical professionals, and psychological counselors that help us with healing, each and every one of us has an opportunity and a responsibility to be a healer to the person sitting to your left or to your right—perhaps someone in your house, in a classroom, or on the athletic field—healing with a gentle touch, a kind word, a thoughtful action, or a gesture of encouragement. To reach out to one another and, in that reaching out, to be connected, to be reconciled, and to be healed, because healing is finally relational.
As we begin this new academic term, I would ask for your prayers for healing, healing for one another, healing for our nation, healing for the nations of the world. During this Easter season on Wednesday evenings here in the Chantry, we will be having services for healing; the rites for those services are found in the Book of Common Prayer, which is in your pew rack. This service begins on page 453, and incorporates the laying on of hands and anointing with oil. In such liturgical action, it is my hope and prayer that, as a community, we might experience and understand the depth of health and wholeness that is the tenth mark of the St. Paul’s School Covenant, “spiritual, physical, and emotional health and wholeness.”
These will be voluntary services; services that I hope you will take advantage of, services where you can come and pray for yourself, for members of your family, for friends who are in need of healing.
So, as we begin this third and final term of this academic year, I welcome you back. I ask you to continue to think about and, perhaps more importantly, live a life of wellness that promotes and intends healing and wholeness. Amen.