Sermon 21 August 2016    Trinity 13

The theme of this sermon is the mysterious way the Church can, through its decisions, impede the freedom of the Gospel. In today’s Gospel it is the Jewish Church contending with Jesus.

It seems, at first, unusual that the sick woman who comes into the Synagogue did not approach Jesus for healing. Recently it dawned on me that as she was completely bent over; she would not even have seen that Jesus was  there.

The first intimation of his presence was his voice calling to her, then his touch and the words “Woman you are healed.” After eighteen years bent double she stood up, straight and steady.

The next thing we know is the man in charge of the synagogue says to all the people there “ The re are plenty of other days to come and be healed – but NOT on the  Sabbath.” Jesus then puts him right about the Sabbath.

Here is a pattern which we shall see repeated. The actions and the events attached to Jesus come into conflict with regulations and interpretations of the Church, Church to which we belong.

One example: for hundreds of years, right up to the 1950s, it was not permitted to receive Communion if you had not fasted from the previous midnight. Some folk thought this included cleaning your teeth! Consequently, during Holy Week, the celebration of events involving Jesus could not always be at the time it originally happened. The rule about fasting Communion meant that the celebration on Maundy Thursday of the the Last  Supper had to be in the morning before lunch. The rules came first.

Even more extraordinary, the Paschal Vigil and first Mass of Easter had also to be before lunch. This meant, of course, that Lent came to an end at Saturday lunch. After that there was church cleaning and maybe a gin and tonic.

In CR the conflict on Maundy Thursday remained. The Supper was in the morning. However the Pascal Vigil and first Mass of Easter was at dawn on Easter morning. Holy Saturday therefore retained its mysterious dignity that we all know today.

The re is a story about a novice in a women’s community who was caught using the telephone on a Retreat Day. Scolded by the Novice Mistress she said “But I was answering a call from someone who was suicidal”, to which the answer was “ The re are plenty of other days to think about suicide but not on a Retreat Day”.

The re is another occasion when the Church seem to conflict with what we infer from the Gospel. For reasons I do not fully understand it is not permitted for anyone who is not in Holy Orders (or, in some Dioceses, a lay-reader) to read the Gospel during the Eucharist. Lay women and men preach the Gospel and teach it but not read it at the Liturgy.

At the present time there is a growing conflict between the amount of work on the computer to be done by the Vicar – and therefore there is less and less freedom for pastoral visits and care, maybe of folk like the woman in the Gospel.  

The parish Priest is today bombarded with demands from the Bishop, the Archdeacon, the Diocesan Missionary committees and meetings to plan evangelism, targets for the next five years – and so on and on. The victim of the conflict is the good Priest who wants to be with his people. (You could imagine the Bishop saying “ The re are other days to visit, not on the days with your computer”.)

As soon as Jesus saw the poor sick woman he immediately, without being asked, went to heal her. Passion and urgency came first with Jesus.

The re is a Latin proverb ‘he who is a Christian gives immediately.’

Despite the climate in the Church today we have Pope Francis on the concept of mercy.

Let us pray that the Church we belong to may discover again the passion and immediacy of Jesus.

        Simon Holden CR