We are following Jesus on a mission, going from town to town, place to place curing the sick and casting out demons. As the audience reading this, we are in this first chapter of Mark’s Gospelplaced right into the middle of the apostle life. We are following Jesus through this fast paced, hectic ministry of encounter and transformation. The storytelling in our Gospel passage this morning is deliberate. There’s no time for appreciation of what Jesus is doing, little time for comprehension of what this means.We are on a journey of following the sandal tracks of the divine.
We can feel like that, sometimes can’t we? That we are chasing a shadow, or we are one step behind where we think that God is leading us in our lives. So often we can focus on the words or the drama in the Gospels, and overlook Jesus’ behavior. There is a really important message in this short Gospel reading this morning, that can be found hidden amongst the acts of miracles and the proclamation of message. In this case that moment comes in a deserted place, in the dark before the morningafter the excitement. Where Jesus is alone, in prayer.
If you are like me, working and living in this upside-down world that we find ourselves in today, you may find yourselfso easily slipping into a pattern of focusing on your own life and your own issues, due to that fact that we are not spending as much time with others. We are constantly online, on zoom, going from one watching screen to the next. We don’t feel restedLife doesn’t seem to have ground to halt, even though the world has. Maybe this is because simple tasks are now harder and need planning, maybe it is because we are disheartened by the news and we are perhaps lacking in our self-care routines. Life is still feeling busy and exhausting even though we are not back to normal. We are all at home waiting to see our loved ones again, go away on vacation perhaps or simply waiting to reclaim some form of normality again.
We are right now, living in that sense of time and space that the author of Mark created in this Gospel. We are living fast paced lives, chasing to catch up, whilst waiting for life to change.
So. At this moment, this morning. In this time and space. Let us slow ourselves down. Let us pause and give ourselves the space to listen. Let us give ourselves the time to separate our own self from our experience of decisions, from our work and from our play.
Let’s consider the chaos that Jesus is confronted with. An entire town gathered outside the house where he is staying. A multitude of sickness, pain and suffering. People who are curious, skeptical and expectant. This picture of chaos is greeted with compassion. Have you ever seen a loved one in pain? And wanted with all your heart to ease that suffering? That same feeling is experienced by the God of creation viewed through human eyes in Jesus only a thousand times over.
And so early on in Mark’s telling of the life of Jesus, we are given here the very clear mandate or objective of the life and mission of Jesus. To heal the sick and free the oppressed. But Jesus is not simply here to magically make these crowds able bodied. But rather, a far more profound understanding of healing is taking place. Jesus is trying to ease people’s suffering to ease pain, be a balm to agony and bring peace to trauma. This speaks to all of our suffering, trauma and anguish. This is compassionJesus is a witness to humanity’s relationship to suffering a reminder that God in human form is brought into relation to that suffering.
This is where we learn the message; that there is hope, a promise of an end to suffering, and this passage at the beginning of Mark’s Gospel holds up a mirror to its ending with the cross. This is Mark’s way of declaring who Jesus is. The urgency is a demonstration of priority and authority. Mark’s Gospel is a defense, or using the historic term, an apology, of who Jesus is. We are given a very clear picture of Jesus as a man, who is something different, something beyond our understandingsomeone whose life pans across the physical and spiritual realm, someone who spoke a language beyond human tongues, one who can communicate with and eradicate evil. He is otherworldly. Bringing peace and healing to those without hope.
Yet for us in our different context today, We live in a world that understands mental and physical health. A world with advanced education and medicine, that understands the afflictions that would have once excluded us, are now met with opportunities and the breaking down of barriers. A world that is working to undo stigma and affirm diversity. A world where global pandemics bring people together where we have created vaccines in record time. These things would be considered miracles in Jesus’ time.
So, the question now becomes, how do we translate this healing that takes place? What can we learn from this passage today? What we can learn is this: we do not walk alone in our suffering. The presence of suffering, pain and trauma is a feature of this story, but it is only a part of it. The part that we need to pay attention to and come back to. Is Jesus alone, in prayer.
What was Jesus praying for in this time alone? Who was Jesus praying for in this time alone? Away from the interaction with those he heals, perhaps Jesus is praying for those in need, those whom he had healed considering and upholding their lives, their stories, their experience.
From the passage we know that Jesus heals people and Jesus prays. What if these two actions are not separate, but dependant on each other? What if prayer is the participation in healing,not through the expectation of a miracle to escape or bypass suffering. But what if prayer is the consideration of a communion of people participating through physical and spiritual presence,experiencing another person’s human condition. Entering into their story, living through this as witness to be transformed by compassion into a message of hope.
One of the most powerful expressions of Christian faith is something that we do each and every week here at Christ Church Cathedral. The prayer list that is sent out each week with the names of those who are a part of this community who have consented to or requested prayer, is how we hold each other up in hope.
When we pray for those in need, we are directing our spiritual energy, our compassion and empathy away from ourselves,towards one another. This is what Christ did on the cross for us.This is what Jesus did in his ministry of healing. The theology of kenosis says that the God of our creation emptied God’s own self through Christ on the cross as an expression of love for us. So when we do this in our prayer we speak that universal truth into our world through the people that we love. And the powerful thing about prayer is that it is reciprocal. When we spend our lives and dedicate our time to the consideration of others, we know that being part of this community, the Church, when it comes to the time that we might need prayer, when we ourselves are suffering or nearing our journeys end; we are upheld by that same community, that same people that we invested our time, love and selves into. Whether we want to name that as miracle or ritual or routine, we are still talking about that same powerful and transforming work, that Jesus taught us.
Prayer is the anticipation and expectation of grace.
Prayer is the intentional offering of peace for those who are in need, either unknown or known to us.
Prayer is the very fabric of connection through the tapestry of community, distanced in understanding,united through love.
We are given right now an illustration of this in the way that we are all living through this pandemic. Simply knowing that others are struggling alongside us at THIS time, creates unity in common compassion. This is what bonds us together as a communion of people. And this is why prayer matters. This is why we pray together, why we name out loud the prayers of the people each Sunday.
We are only given a snapshot of healing in the stories where Jesus goes from place-to-place performing miracles. But each of those people had a story and a lived experience that goes beyond suffering and healing. Perhaps this is why Jesus makes time to pray the morning afterward. There is more significance to the act of healing than simply the moment of remission or transformation. Because healing is a process of lived experience. True Healing is bigger than before and after the pain. Our pain and trauma is a lifelong journey of resiliency, of a coming into being, despite and because of, our suffering.
We have to pay attention to this part of the story because if we don’t, if we allow ourselves to only read the Gospelthrough the eyes of the disciples, we can so easily become lost in the chaos.
I want to leave you with the image of Jesus alone in prayer. Is that something that we do? If we want to become Christlike in our lives, we have the chance to participate in healing through prayer.
Make time this week to pray for others,
Make time this week to pray for yourself
For the message of the Gospel, is that suffering does not have the last word. The last word is love.