God, we see Jesus lift up this woman with a fever known only to us as Peter’s mother-in-law, but known completely to you, healing her for service/discipleship for the healing of the world. Help us to know, to hear, to understand in the stillness and storms of need, that you are God over the stars and the earth and you lift up the lowly; our and the world’s hope and healing, our commission and service, our strength, rest in your Spirit.
Did I hear, did you hear Dr. Bonnie Henry, chief Public Health Officer here in BC, at the Covid-19 update on Friday, use the word, “indefinitely,” when referring to the current Covid-19 restrictions? Indefinitely? Yes, there was something about a review at the end of February. And with nothing but respect and support for Dr. Henry, but indefinitely, indefinitely, really!? God, how long until we embrace our beloved, elders, those who are grieving, hug and hold children and grandchildren again? How long until those who are without work now, will work again? How long will the struggles continue for so many, disadvantaged already because of their vulnerability already, being poor, homeless, in mental or physical distress, the addicted and poisoned; elderly, frail, isolated, Black or Indigenous or other people of colour, queer or differently able or in other minorities. How long, O God, for those who suffer far more than my own restrictions that keep me at a distance from loved ones, but not from the privileges of a job, an income, or home; not from all the healthcare and support I need, not from a sense of safety in my own skin or identity. How long O God, for all these little and loved ones of yours brought even lower by this pandemic that they be lifted up and healed and made whole and included, cared for and safe and warm and at peace as you desire? This Psalm-like question, “How long, O God,” speaks a deeply felt yearning for us, and especially for others, for all, in this time.
The student theology group connected to Church of the Cross that gathers over Zoom every second Thursday is reading and discussing a book by Walter Brueggemann, Praying the Psalms. First written 40 years ago, and more recently updated in a second edition published in 2007, it examines the Psalms as a collection of Jewish poetry and candor, in which “no secrets can be hidden;” in “strident, subversive, intense forms of language” that articulate and reveal a Jewish shape of “active, protesting suffering; the shape of defiant, resilient hope.” (p.XI) As the group discussed just over a week ago, the Psalms, read and heard and understood like this, are our and other’s prayers for just this pandemic time.
But before the Psalm for today, I want us to lift up this Psalm-like questioning of, “How long, O God?” born of raw emotion or wearying sadness, a question for us and for the sake of others in our time, that is the question for the people of Israel in exile in the second prophet of Isaiah’s time.
And the prophet answers: “Have you not known? Have you not heard? Has it not been told to you from the beginning? Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth?” And with the poetry of God who is God of the stars and of all the earth, before whom princes and rulers are not and nothing, at the breath of God they wither and blow away like stubble; God, to whom not one can compare, creating everything that is, numbering and calling all by name, and by God’s power and strength, not one is missing. Why do we wonder if God is forgetting, disregarding us and others? Have you not known? Have you not heard? The everlasting God, Creator of the ends of the earth, does not grow faint or weary; who’s understanding is unsearchable, gives power to the faint, and strengthens the powerless – even youth faint and are weary, the young fall exhausted, but those who wait on God shall renew their strength, they shall rise up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, walk and not faint.
Lifted up. In the words of the prophet, “Have you, have we, not known, heard, been told from the beginning, understood from the foundations of the earth?” God, Creator of all, who never grows faint or weary, for all and all creation that are weary, fainting, exhausted, powerless; God, as on wings of an eagle, lifts us, lifts you, lifts this world, up. Hallelujah!
These are the words that describe the tender and intimate action of Jesus for an unnamed woman, Peter’s mother-in-law, in bed with a fever.
Do you have a fever? That too is a question of this time, printed on most every public doorway we could enter. And depending on where you need to go for work or for medical care or to see an elder or loved one in care or hospital, you will be asked this question or they will take your temperature because of this possible symptom of Covid-19. And it is a kind of fever of sadness and weariness, fainting and powerless, exhaustion! that we can all feel for ourselves or others. Having a fever has taken on a new meaning in this pandemic time.
Simon’s mother-in-law is in bed with a fever. And when they leave the synagogue and arrive at Simon and Andrew’s home, they tell Jesus about her at once. We should notice it is still the Sabbath. But Jesus’ healing, God’s healing is for God’s ailing people on the Sabbath, as on any day and at any time no matter the religious and political protests that will arise. And Jesus’ healing way and pattern is established, people bring those who are sick to Jesus or to his attention, and Jesus goes to them, even their homes. Jesus goes to Simon’s mother-in-law, takes her by the hand and lifts her up. It is a tender and beautiful scene. An unnamed woman, a mother-in-law, sick in bed with a fever, and Jesus goes to her, takes her by the hand, and lifts her up. And so, Jesus reveals God’s desire to lift up all who are sick, no matter how seemingly unknown and unnamed, to be healed, Lifted up.
Now! hear the words of the Psalm today, Psalm 147, “Hallelujah! How good it is to sing praises to our God! How pleasant it is to honour God with praise… God heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds… God lifts up the lowly… Hallelujah!
And at Sabbath nightfall, numberless, nameless people, “everyone” from the city brings those who are sick for Jesus to heal them. Marks’ few words help us feel how overwhelming it all is. Like a Covid-19 unit or ICU in a hospital. And Jesus cured many and cast out many demons, and in words like we heard last Sunday, he would not allow the demons to speak because they knew Jesus, because the whole truth of who Jesus is remains secret until all is revealed in Jesus’ death and resurrection for the healing and lifting up of all and all creation.
It’s like in our time those who have recovered from Covid-19 being released from the hospital, some able to get up from a wheelchair and stand, and medical staff, those on the frontlines clap and cheer as the recovered are free to go home again. This is God’s desire for all, to be healed. Lifted up. Hallelujah!
And lastly, we heard, “In the morning, while it was still very dark, Jesus got up and went out to a deserted place (a wilderness place, like where the Spirit drove him before) and there he prayed.” In the midst of overwhelming need, when it is still very dark, Jesus needs the quiet, needs to pray. Is it to be lifted up? Is it to speak and question in the Psalmist’s strident, subversive, intense language that protests suffering; that shouts a defiant, resilient hope? Is it to hear again the prophet’s words, “Have you not known? Have you not heard? Has it not been told to you from the beginning? Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth? That God, Creator of the ends of the earth, who heals the brokenhearted and lifts up the lowly, who does not grow faint or weary; but gives power to the faint, and strengthens the powerless – God shall renew your strength, to rise up with wings like eagles, to run and not be weary, to walk and not faint. And so, Jesus rises up to continue to do what Jesus came to do, for you, for us, and every suffering, disadvantaged, marginalized, lowly one, and takes each by the hand, and lifts them up to serve, as Peter’s mother-in-law was first to do before us, as we are lifted up and called to do after her, in the gracious and healing Spirit of God. Sometimes it takes a fever, or the quiet of a pandemic for us to hear, know, and trust this, God’s truth. Hear this poem of John Updike,
I have brought back a good message from the land of 102 degrees: God exists. I had seriously doubted it before; but the bedposts spoke of it with utmost confidence, the threads in my blanket took it for granted, the tree outside the window dismissed all complaints, and I have not slept so justly for years. It is hard, now, to convey how emblematically appearances sat upon the membranes of my consciousness; but it is truth long known that some secrets are hidden from health. (Collected Poems 1953-93) Lifted up. To lift up others. Hallelujah!