01 July 2012

The Worship of the Body

It means to be whipped — beaten or disciplined with a whip — the word that is used to describe that poor woman’s affliction.  It’s a metaphor, but it fits.  No one has taken a whip to her back, but a string of doctors have taken all her money without helping.  In fact, she has grown worse.

Twelve years of bleeding, from the inside out.  The curse upon the Woman has been notched up significantly in this daughter of Eve.  Her life is in the blood, but it won’t stop flowing out of her, slipping away.  And so she is left anemic and drained, low on energy, and tired in every way of dealing with this scourge.  How many times has she dared to hope, only to be whipped again, and dashed back down?  Twelve years!  Think of that.

How many clothes has she had to scour or discard in all that time?  How often has she broken down and sobbed in despair?  We do not know such details, but imagine yourself in her place, and consider the whips that have fallen upon you over the years.

Some hurts, like this woman’s, are all that much harder and heavier to bear because they are so embarrassing, and you are so ashamed, you want to hide yourself away.  In such a case as this one, the Law is clear:  She is unclean.  She is not to go out in public.  She is not to be in church.

Whipped and beaten, yes, that fits.

But, now, you have heard the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that, though He was rich, yet for your sake He made Himself poor, so that you, by His poverty, might become rich.  Don’t imagine dollar signs, but look to Him for salvation: for life and health and strength and every good thing.  Here is the great Physician of body and soul, who does in fact make house calls.  He has come to help.  He will not take all your money, and then leave you bleeding, but He pours Himself out, and gives Himself to you, in order to fill you up.

He has crossed over.  You heard about the little boat last week, which gives you an image of His Church.  Now, in that boat, He has gone back and forth across the lake.  And in the meantime, He has cast out a legion of demons from a wild man who lived among the tombs.  You should hear in all of this that He has come down from heaven for you, and in the flesh He has gone to death and back on your behalf.  He entered the waters of Baptism, in order to cross over by His Cross and Passion, through death and the grave, into His bodily Resurrection and the life everlasting.

Why does He make such a journey, if not to save you from death and bring you into life with Himself?  That is the point.  That is why He is here for you now, as He was for that woman then.

Worship Him: with your heart, by faith, and with your lips, by confessing Him and calling upon His Name, and with your body, too.
To “worship” is to bow, to genuflect or kneel, to fall at the feet of Jesus, the Lord, and prostrate yourself before Him.  Such outward bodily “worship” will avail you nothing without faith, but where your heart bows before Him, there your mind and mouth and hands and feet, and your whole body, will follow suit.  Don’t worry: Jesus isn’t keeping score, and neither am I.  Don’t try to score each other, either.  But do worship the Lord Jesus, and lay hold of Him where He is found.

Your heart, mind and soul won’t have Him without your body.  Not because you must work for Him, but because He saves the whole you.  Your heart and mind, soul and body have altogether fallen into sin and death, and are altogether subject to temporal and eternal punishment.  But so has the Lord your God come in the flesh, as true Man with heart and mind, soul and body of His own, just like yours, in order to save you altogether: to raise you from death and the grave, in order to give you life forever in body and soul.

What He has accomplished for you, in and with His Body and His Blood, He gives to you in the means of grace, in the Ministry of the Gospel, which you receive with your body.  Your ears hear His Word.  Your eyes see the sign of His Cross, set before you, and the administration of His Sacraments.  Your body has been washed with the water included in His command and combined with His Word in Holy Baptism.  And so do you eat His Body and drink His Blood with your mouth, with your lips and tongue and teeth and throat.

To receive these good gifts of Christ Jesus, with your body, in faith, is to worship Him most surely.  So do you seek Him out, and lay yourself before Him, and call upon His Name, in the hope and expectation that He will hear you and help you.

That is what Jairus did.  He was a leader of the local synagogue, who knew the Scriptures, the Word and promises of God, and who recognized that Word made flesh in Christ Jesus.  He approached Jesus, and fell at His feet — he worshiped Him with his body, and with prayer and petition for his little daughter, who was at the point of death.  She was only twelve years old, which seems like such a tender age at which to die, although it is a very long time to be hemorrhaging.  You can easily picture that little girl, if you simply consider the several young ladies of that age within our own congregation.

You fathers and mothers, picture one of your daughters — or a son, for that matter — wasting away before your eyes, and dying.  If there’s anything worse than dealing with your own frailty, weakness, and mortality, it is the anguish and sorrow of watching your own child suffer and die, and realizing how utterly helpless and powerless you are to save her (or him).  Some of you don’t have to imagine it, because you’ve been there.

By the grace of God, you pray, as Jairus prayed, that Jesus would come and help.  And do you see how bodily all of this is?  Jairus prays, not only with his mouth, but with his body, prostrate at the feet of Jesus.  He implores the Lord to come, to lay His hands on the little girl, so that she will get well and live.  He’s pleading for her salvation, that is what his words imply, but his immediate concern and prayer are for her bodily health and well-being.  He wants her to go to heaven in the resurrection of the righteous, but right now he does not want her to die.  He loves his little girl and does not want to lose her.  So Jairus goes to Jesus and confesses that He is the Lord, the Author and Giver of Life, and that His flesh — the touch of His hand — is strong and powerful to save.

Now, Jesus responds right away by going with Jairus, just as He also hears and answers all your prayers.  Indeed, He is the Answer to your prayers.  Before you have even called, and while you are yet speaking, your Father in heaven has given you this same Son, Jesus Christ, for you and for your children.  He has mercy and compassion upon you, and He comes to save you.

But then there is this interruption, this intrusion, this delay.  Pushing through the crowd, like trying to swim your way upstream, having appealed to the Lord and secured His promise of help, you’re anxious to get home, to see some results, to experience the blessed relief and the great joy of an answered prayer.  It’s your turn.  Your need is so great, and the time is so short.  Yet, Jesus stops and turns and waits upon another — He turns His body and His attention to someone else; and you are left waiting, until it is seemingly too late, while not yours but your neighbor’s prayer is granted.

It is interesting, and not by accident, that these two stories are woven together.  That’s how life is.  And you’ve been on both sides, haven’t you?  You’ve been the one who is needed by too many people at once, being asked for help on all sides, pushed and pulled about by more demands than you can handle.  And you’ve also been the one who’s lost in the crowd, desperately trying to get someone’s attention, to get what you need; waiting patiently, or not so patiently, for your turn.

We’re not told what Jairus thought about the delay.  Perhaps he was a ways ahead before he even realized that Jesus had stopped and was no longer following after him.  Did he panic?  How would your pulse and blood pressure have been at that point?  Would you have been angry or impatient?  We’re not told of anything that Jairus said or did; not at this point, nor throughout the rest of the story.  Everything hinges on Jesus, on what He says and does.  So, you also are drawn to Him, to follow Him, to trust in Him, to wait on Him.

The woman was exactly right in knowing that Jesus was the answer to her need, on the basis of what she had heard about Him.  That was the only Word she had, and that is where she put her faith.  And again, it is all so bodily.  Her prayer is not with words, but in this case with the reaching of her hand.  She lays hold of Jesus in faith, by laying hold of His cloak, His garments.  You’ve heard about these things before, and we’ve talked about this recently in Bible class, with reference to the vestments of the High Priest.  Here now is Jesus, your merciful and great High Priest, and the hem of His garments — like that of every Jewish man — is bound up with the Word of God.  For that is how the Lord works: He attaches His Word and promises to external things, which you can touch and take hold of.  That is where faith looks for Him, and finds Him, and receives Him.

That is how you also lay hold of Him in faith, according to His Word: in the water of Holy Baptism, and in the bread and wine which are His Body and His Blood in the Holy Communion.  And power goes out from His Holy Body to the one who lays hold of Him by faith.  The crowd presses upon Him, but it is faith in His Word that discerns and receives the Life that is in Him.

That is how it was for the woman in this Gospel, and so also for you.  Immediately, the flow of her blood was dried up, and she felt in her body that she was healed.  After twelve long years, she was suddenly no longer broken and dying, but made whole and clean and filled with Life.  Because Jesus has borne our griefs and carried all our sorrows in His Body, and He has poured out His Blood for all of us.  He was whipped for our transgressions, and by His scourging we are healed.

Faith receives that healing, that forgiveness, life and salvation, in the means of grace, in the Gospel of Christ Jesus.  It is here for you to have and to hold, that you also may have peace and joy.

Which is all well and good for that woman, whom Jesus tenderly addresses as a “daughter.”  But what about the synagogue official’s little girl?  What about that daughter?  And what about you and your children and your hurts?

They came to Jairus with the news, like the dreaded phone call in the middle of the night.  It’s too late.  It’s all over.  “Your daughter has died.”  End of story.  “Why trouble the Teacher anymore?”

And yet, the Teacher has something more to teach you.  Even now, He says, “Do not be afraid any longer.  Only believe.”  So, Jairus was afraid, as you can well imagine, as you are afraid and tempted to despair.  But, again, St. Mark does not describe what Jairus was thinking or feeling, or doing or saying.  Everything moves with Jesus.  He is the One who speaks, who acts.

The woman with the twelve-year flow of blood went looking for Him, and found Him, where His Word said that He would be.  You also, seek Him where He may be found.  And call upon Him, for yourself and for your neighbor, as Jairus besought Him in the first place for his little daughter.

But notice that the twelve-year-old girl does absolutely nothing for herself in this case.  We are told nothing of her faith.  And, medically speaking, she’s already dead when Jesus shows up.  Do not suppose that her family, friends and doctors have simply made a mistake in thinking that she has died.  The Word of Jesus, that “the child has not died, but is asleep,” is not a second medical opinion or a different diagnosis, but a powerful Word of Life that makes all things new.

Of course, the world regards the Word of Jesus as ridiculous.  So the people go from a wailing commotion to hysterical laughter, from devilish despair to the mockery of unbelief.  That is the temptation, and the sin, that also lurks within your heart and rears its head to devour your hope.

For all of that, the Lord Jesus enters in and casts out doubt and fear, and blasphemy and sin.  He enters the room where the child is, and with this Holy Gospel He has made you His companion; He brings you with Him — once more, through death into life.

He takes hold of that little girl.  He takes her by the hand, and He speaks: “Talitha kum!”  Get up!  It is the Resurrection Word, and as surely as the death of Jesus swallows up death forever, so surely do His flesh and His Word raise up the dead in His rising.  Immediately the girl gets up and begins to walk.  She lives.

You live, too, because the same Lord Jesus has done the very same thing for you.  Others have prayed and interceded for you, surely, but even when everyone else in the world has been silenced, Jesus enters in and saves you.  He comes into your room of death, and He takes you by the hand, in order to raise you up from death to life.

He has done it in your Baptism: by the hand and mouth of your pastor, with the water and the Word.  He does the same thing with His Word of Absolution: His forgiveness says to you, “Get up, and go in peace.”  Not only are you healed of your deepest affliction, but you are brought back from the dead.  Today, if you hear His voice, do not be afraid anymore, but only believe.

It is not too late.  Not yet.

Wait upon the Lord, for He will help you.  If He delays in answering your prayers, He has not forgotten you.  If He causes grief, He will also have compassion.  He does not willingly afflict or grieve the sons and daughters of men, and He will not reject forever.  His steadfast love never ceases, but His mercies are new every morning.  He forgives you all your sins, and He will save you from all evil.  He is faithful, and He will do it.

It is good and right for you to seek Him out, to lay hold of Him in His means of grace, to avail yourself of His Gospel, and to worship Him with heart and mind, body and soul.  But rest assured that His faithfulness is greater than yours.  Therefore He has borne the yoke for you, that you might be set free by His hard labor and patient obedience.  In silence before His accusers, He has waited upon His Father to vindicate Him and to deliver Him out of death for your justification.  He has given His cheek to the smiters and put His mouth in the dust, that you might have hope, even when it all seems so very hopeless.

In truth, as God has raised this same Jesus from the dead, you have a sure and certain hope in Him.  Hang on to Him for dear life — grab hold of His garments right here, in the preaching of His Word, and in His Sacrament — and don’t let go.  Take hold of Him in the confidence that He holds on to you.  For the One who took you by the hand and raised you up through the waters of your Baptism, here also gives you something to eat.  Indeed, He feeds you with His own Body, and His own Blood still flows for you, that you might be filled with the power of His indestructible Life.

That stands fast and remains forever, in the face of suffering, sickness, sin and death.  For He has called you His own daughter, His own son, and He shall not let you go.  No one shall ever snatch you out of His hand.  If you can imagine the loving concern and committed zeal of Jairus for his little daughter, ever so much more and greater is the love and compassion of the Lord your God for you, His own dear child.

In the death of Christ Jesus for you, your death is but a peaceful sleep and Sabbath rest.  And in His Resurrection from the dead, you are made well, and you live, in soul and body forever.

In the Name + of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

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