Our Gospel reading for this morning is a little complicated. It begins with the story of Jairus’s twelve-year-old daughter, breaks off for the story of the hemorrhaging woman, and then finishes the story of Jairus’s daughter. My focus today is on the girl.
When Jairus first approaches Jesus to ask for help, his daughter is at the point of death. Jesus agrees to help but, before he gets there, the girl dies. It would seem that all hope is lost.
But there is always hope with Jesus. Jesus gives Jairus a word of encouragement, tells the crowd of mourners to relax, and then raises Jairus’s daughter from the dead. Her family is understandably amazed.
This story invites us to meditate on resurrection, on what it means to be people of resurrection faith.
Now, strictly speaking, what we have here is not Christian resurrection.
When Jesus rises, he is, in some ways, the same old Jesus. He eats. He has a physical body that people can touch. Most importantly, he carries the wounds of the crucifixion, the holes in his hands and in his side.
But the resurrected Jesus is also changed somehow. The people who knew and loved Jesus best have trouble recognizing him. They eventually come around. They eventually see their beloved master for who he is. But not at first. It is Jesus, but a transformed Jesus. Resurrection has changed Jesus.
What we see in Christ’s resurrection is resurrection doesn’t just mean coming back from the dead. Resurrection means that, but it also means more than that. Resurrection means being touched by death, touched by God. And, resurrection means experiencing new, and different, and fuller life than before. Resurrection in the fullest Christian sense of the term means being set free from death altogether. Resurrection means eternal life with God.
The girl in our Gospel reading does not experience resurrection in that strict sense of the word. She was dead. Now she is alive. But she isn’t otherwise changed. She looks the same. She is the same.
This girl has been touched by death. She has been touched by God. But, as best we can tell, she has not been so transformed that her life is obviously new and different and fuller than it was before. She will still die. That means she has NOT experienced resurrection in the full Christian sense of the term, in the way we can see in Jesus, in the way we ourselves hope to experience resurrection someday.
But I wonder. I wonder what the next day was like for this family, and all the days after that.
It could be that they resumed life just as before. It could be that the girl returned to school the next day and told her friends she was all better. It could be that Jairus went about his duties at the synagogue as if nothing big had happened. It could be that the girl’s mother did the same things the day after her daughter’s return to life that the mother did the day before her daughter’s miraculous rising.
But that is hard to imagine.
As our story begins, Jairus already believed in Jesus enough to appeal to him for help. But I’m guessing that Jairus and his wife paid a LOT more attention to everything Jesus said and did from this point forward. That’s a big deal.
But I am guessing the changes went deeper than that, too. I am guessing Jairus and his family began to approach every day as a gift. I am guessing they dedicated themselves to God with a new fervor. I am guessing they had more compassion for their neighbors when their neighbors suffered.
In short, I am guessing that they WERE changed when Jesus raised their daughter from the dead. They DID experience resurrection that day. Not resurrection in the full Christian sense of the term. But resurrection nonetheless, a kind of mini-resurrection.
Now bring it forward two thousand years. None of us have yet experienced resurrection in the full Christian sense of the word. But we have had mini-resurrections of our own.
As many of you know, I am a Third Order Franciscan. As a member of the Third Order, I have to make a formal report each year on how the year has gone, on my struggles and on the blessings I have received.
I wrote my report in the last week or so. In a year of global pandemic, all of us have been touched, one way or another, by death. That came through in my report. I had to acknowledge the many challenges we have faced, which were certainly real enough: loss, grief, fear, uncertainty, fatigue.
But about halfway through my report, I realized I was misrepresenting my experience of the last year. Everything I had said was true, but it was radically one-sided. I have been touched by death in the last year. But I have also been touched by God, over and over again. And I have been changed in the process. God has drawn me closer. In some important ways, my life is deeper and fuller now than it was a year and a half ago. I am in the middle of a mini-resurrection.
I suspect that what is true for me is true for many of us. I know it is true for us as a parish.
In the last year, our parish, like all parishes, like all institutions, has experienced much loss and much change. It has been hard.
AND God has been with us. New life has emerged.
We are in the middle of new life emerging right now, today.
Recently we started singing again. We started gathering around the altar for Holy Eucharist again.
As of today, we have enough chairs in the Church that people can kneel for prayer more easily. And, as of today many of us are not wearing masks. We can see each other’s faces!
A personal blessing, a bit of new life, is having my parents with us—this week has been the first time I have seen them in 18 months.
After the service this morning, we’ll gather for our annual picnic. We get to experience ourselves as a Church family once again, gathering around the altar for a sacramental meal and then gathering around tables for a festive family-style meal.
Today is a big step in the return of normalcy for us.
But this is not just the resumption of our old life, as if nothing has happened. We have been changed in the last year. We are not exactly the same parish we were two years ago. And we shouldn’t want to be.
We are in the midst of mini-resurrection. God has touched us. God has given us new life. God has called us to new ministries, mostly obviously our new digital ministries, but more than that, too.
And so today I give thanks to God for getting us to this point, when we can worship unmasked and then have a picnic. But even more I thank God for continuing to work with us, for continuing to call us, for continuing to breath new life into us. I give thanks to God for the mini-resurrections in our lives as individuals and as a parish. And I pray that God will continue to draw us deeper and deeper into the divine life that is our ultimate destiny, thanks be to Christ.
I pray all this in Christ’s name. Amen.
Rev. Dr. Harvey Hill
Third Order Franciscan