Greetings from the beach! When I arrived in Longport, New Jersey the wind was blowing so hard I could not go all the way out to the beach. After the LONG drive from Concord, I was determined to see the ocean, so I set up my beach chair on the walkway, in the dunes, trying to shelter from the wind. Immediately I noticed that the dune grass was completely bent over by the wind coming from the south and from the sea. The plants that hold the sand, protect the shore, were parallel to the ground. Hmm…I mused, this picture brings to mind last week’s gospel story from Luke 13:10-17 (see below for Scripture); the story often referred to as “the bent-over woman.”
She comes into the synagogue for regular weekly worship, but on this particular Sunday Jesus is there. She does not anticipate anything different happening, so long has she lived bent over, eyes down. But on that day, Jesus is there, sees her, and heals her of the condition. “You are set free,” he says, as he reaches out to touch her. She stands up and praises God.
Why was she bent over for 18 years? Probably from osteoarthritis or some other medical condition. This healing is a miracle, for her, and by today’s medical science, for sure. But if we label the story as simply a “Biblical miracle,” for this one person, we miss the point Luke is making about Jesus’ power to heal. To heal her and to heal us. What does it mean to be bent over?
There are so many ways we share in her condition. Like the blades of beach grass, each of us can be pummeled by winds of illness, addiction, despair, cynicism, and grief. In our broken world we witness together wounds of violence, war, racism, neglect, and indifference to other people and to our fragile planet. This past Sunday marked the 400th anniversary of the arrival of the first enslaved people to our shores. The weight of that event 400 years ago, still presses hard on all of us, and unduly so on those whose ancestors came here as slaves.
Much is made about Jesus healing on the Sabbath, in the synagogue; but the Sabbath — our Sunday worship — is one of the places where Jesus shows up each week as we gather around God’s table. He offers us himself in the bread and the wine. He forgives our sins, gives us strength to stand, and offers healing for our lives. In God’s economy healing is not simply a medical matter, but a matter of being made whole—even when we have physical infirmities which are very real; the possibility of wholeness exists because of God’s love for us, which transforms into our ability to offer love and care to others. We may feel bent over by the weight of our sins, our burdens, our despair; but when we know and receive the freedom in God’s healing love, in communion with Christ and one another, we are freed. Our posture can once again be to stand in solidarity with those in need, to rise up for justice, to praise our living God. AND, when we know ourselves to be healed, we can choose to bend down, to draw near to others; to soothe a crying baby; to lean in as we listen to the words of a loved one; to ponder the beauty of a shell on the beach; or get on our knees to plant a garden.
I like to think of the woman Jesus healed in the synagogue as standing up straight praising God for a moment, but then bending back down to comfort the child sitting beside her. For that is how God leans down to us. Bends down from heaven to come to us as a human baby, bringing freedom, truth, and his unfailing love.
As we say goodbye to summer, may we turn to a new season in community and ministry together; knowing ourselves to be God’s people: hopeful, healed and renewed; ready to stand up and to bend down; to praise God, and to love one another as He loves us.
See you in September!
Your sister in Christ,
Luke 13:10-17 Now Jesus was teaching in one of the synagogues on the sabbath. And just then there appeared a woman with a spirit that had crippled her for eighteen years. She was bent over and was quite unable to stand up straight. When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said, “Woman, you are set free from your ailment.” When he laid his hands on her, immediately she stood up straight and began praising God. But the leader of the synagogue, indignant because Jesus had cured on the sabbath, kept saying to the crowd, “There are six days on which work ought to be done; come on those days and be cured, and not on the sabbath day.” But the Lord answered him and said, “You hypocrites! Does not each of you on the sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the manger, and lead it away to give it water? And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen long years, be set free from this bondage on the sabbath day?” When he said this, all his opponents were put to shame; and the entire crowd was rejoicing at all the wonderful things that he was doing.
Photo credit: N. Hagner, Longport, NJ August 2019