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Sharing the Healing Touch of Jesus – A Blue Christmas Reflection

December 15, 2012

The cover for our Blue Christmas Service this year had two powerful images, which are embedded below.

The first is the famous depiction of the Crucifixion from the Altarpiece of the hospital chapel of St. Anthony’s Monastery in Isenheim, Alsace. It was painted by Matthias Grünewald around 1512-1515. This Monastery had been a hospital for people suffering with the bubonic plague in the years it devastated Europe.  Detailed examination of Grünewald’s portayal of Jesus on the Cross shows that he has been painted with the appearance of one suffering from the plague. In this way, Grünewald bore eloquent witness to the truth stated in Isaiah 53:4: “Surely he has borne our infirmities and carried our diseases.”

Isenheim Altarpiece

The second is a 1993 painting by Maxwell Lawton entitled “Man of Sorrows: Christ with AIDS.” Lawton’s work bears the same witness as Grünewald’s, affirming that Jesus suffers with those who suffer, understanding our pain from within, not without. But there is a key difference, which for me makes Lawton’s painting in some ways even more powerful. Grünewald didn’t have the Plague.  Maxwell Lawton painted “Man of Sorrows” a year after he was diagnosed with AIDS. Lawton lived with AIDS for 14 years, dying from metastatic malignant melanoma at the age of 50, in 2006.

As the terrible events in Connecticut bring home so awfully, we are all yearning, longing for the fullness of Day, while still experiencing much darkness.

At our Blue Christmas Service, we sang Carey Landry’s song, “Lay Your Hands.”

The first verse has these beautiful words:

Lay your hands gently upon us.
Let their touch render your peace.
Let thm bring your forgiveness and healing.
Lay your hands, gently lay your hands.

The Gospel passage for our Blue Christmas Service was Mark 1:40-42:

A leper came to Jesus begging him, and kneeling he said to him, ‘If you choose, you can make me clean.’ Moved with compassion, Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, and said to him, ‘I do choose. Be made clean!’ Immediately the leprosy left him, and he was made clean.

There are many parallels between leprosy in the society in which Jesus lived and AIDS today. Both have evoked from people fear and the desire to protect themselves by keeping their distance. Jesus breaks through this and touches the man with leprosy, because of his compassion. Jesus chooses not to insulate himself from our brokenness, but is willing to be touched by our pain. He draws close and touches us.

John Ortberg writes:

In a contagious world, we learn to keep our distance. If we get too close to those who are suffering, we might get infected by their pain. … But only when you are close enough to catch their hurt will they be close enough to catch your love.

Jesus chooses to get close enough for us to catch his love. But the glorious result is that Jesus’ touching the leper makes the leper clean, not Jesus unclean. Jesus’ bearing our infirmities and carrying our diseases on the Cross, does not bring death, but life. It does not kill the Author of life. The Author of life destroys the power of death.  

This is the same Author of life who desires his power for healing to flow through us to each other – and the result will be the same, as we make the same choice to draw near and touch one another.

In many ways, all of us feel still feel very much in the darkness. As President Obama said yesterday, our hearts are broken at the darkness around us, and – if we are honest – the darkness inside. At our Services celebrating the Reign of Christ, we were all invited to bring pill bottles, and the large number of bottles we ended up with required us to find a larger basket in which to put them. The bottles symbolized the truth that all of us are broken.

But it is in the midst of this darkness that we are called to shine with the light of Jesus.

Isaiah 60:1-4 says:

Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you. For darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples; but the Lord will arise upon you, and his glory will appear over you. Nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn. Lift up your eyes and look around; they all gather together, they come to you; your sons shall come from far away, and your daughters shall be carried on their nurses’ arms.

As the Song of Zechariah adds, “In the tender compassion of our God the dawn from on high shall break upon us, to shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death, and [NOTE!] to guide our feet into the way of peace.”

The deep mystery is that in the midst of our brokenness, we can reflect the light of Our Lord’s love and be agents of healing. The world doesn’t need, and can’t afford to wait for, perfect people. What the world needs is people who are doubting, afraid, struggling, and yet choose to love anyway, not in their own strength, but in the strength of the One on whom they are relying to get through the day, and sometimes the next moment. And the mystery of mysteries is that as we do, we find healing together – together, our feet are guided into the way of peace.

The words for the second verse of “Lay Your Hands” are:

Lord, we come to you through one another.
Lord, we come to you in our need.
Lord we come to you seeking wholeness.
Lay your hands, gently lay your hands.

Jesus’ reaches his healing touch for the broken through us.

Today, I pray that we all remember Jesus’ power to heal – now and ultimately, completely, totally.

I pray that we remember that he is with us in the darkness, no matter how great – loving us, feeling our pain from within. And because of his love for us, by his stripes, all of us, will indeed be healed.

And, I pray that we remember that we have a part to play in spreading the light – that we are called to be his healing hands and feet moving to share his light and love with all our fellow broken travellers on life’s way.

Amen.

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