Contemplation as we enter Holy Week
on the 3rd Passiontide Week, 2020
In light of the gospel reading, John 8:1-11
Right now, in so many parts of the world, on every continent, doctors and nurses are trying to bring care and support to human beings who are suffering the effects of a world-wide disease. One can feel the prayers of support, gratitude and encouragement that are rising out of all of our souls for their efforts to meet this moment, often putting their own health at risk. Let our prayers this morning – and each day during this time – join in this great rising swell of prayers, that we give our heart’s best forces to God and God gives them to them.
But the work of healing that all these individuals have dedicated themselves to is yet more challenging than this first response. Other doctors are at work in the background, gathering all the information they can about the exact nature of this disease. Where and under what circumstances does it come into the human being? How does it behave once it is there, what are its symptoms? What parts of our humanity are attacked and affected by the disease? Doctors know: no right response, no healing medicine can be developed unless they have done a thorough and careful diagnosis. A superficial response to the illness that only treats the symptoms will not be helpful, and could perhaps be even harmful. They must look deeply and illumine the darkness of this disease with the light of understanding if they wish to bring true healing.
Passiontide and the Healer of Mankind
It ought not to be lost on us that this great world-moment is taking place during the season of preparation for Easter, during Passiontide (or Lent). In the course of the year, Christ’s forces stream into our lives in different ways through each unique festival season. This is due, in part, to the fact that he is never working alone. In the great festivals, Christ works in and through the mighty beings we know in Christian tradition as ‘Archangels’. In the time of harvest, Christ works through Michael; at Christmas time, his power shines through the working of the Archangel of birth, Gabriel. Now, during Passiontide, when we turn our attention to the new ‘Mercury symbol’ of healing, that is, Christ Jesus on the cross, his forces are aligned with the Archangel of Healing: Raphael.
In this light we can more deeply understand what our Passiontide liturgy is bringing to the human soul. You could say: we are invited into the doctor’s office of the greatest healer in our cosmos. We are invited to look deeply at our human condition through the eyes of the one who is himself, The Light of the World. Through his truth-permeated gaze, we are invited to look at our experience of being human, to illumine what we ourselves may have trouble seeing, because it lies so deep. We need his eyes to see ourselves clearly, for, if we were to look at human behavior only superficially and would respond, the results could be disastrous.
The Gospel Reading: The Scene of the Woman Caught in Adultery
Those with the stones in their hands, circled around the woman caught in the act of adultery in John 8, are looking only superficially at the situation. They see how she has acted out of selfish desires, broken her word, her marriage and her family and thereby brought suffering into the whole community. They see her immoral action and are ready to stone her, eradicating this immorality from the community and setting an example to others to scare them into obedience.
But there is another one there in the scene. He looks with different eyes. He looks with the calm, deep gaze of a physician into the deeper causes, the source for the symptoms of these outer behaviors. What he sees is revealed in our liturgical prayer, read at the beginning and the end of our service during this season.
The Diagnosis of the Healer of Humanity
He sees deeply into us and recognizes:
Where your heart should be, there is emptiness.
You have suffered a devastating loss: you have lost the spirit, the spirit that wakens you.
This gives rise to your deep feeling of incompleteness.
And the effects of this loss are coursing through every part of your human experience:
Longing courses in your very blood;
Lack and want surge in your breathing;
Grief and mourning, full of a kind of expectant awaiting, is part of your everyday consciousness.
In the gaze of the great physician, our human experience is illumined: we stand before him revealed as a grieving soul. Loss permeates us, body and soul. We are full of lack and longing, suffering the experience of the empty place of our heart where the spirit should be. This is our, humanity-wide illness. We all – every human being on the planet – have contracted it. It is the sickness of sin.
Sin, Isolation and the Symptoms of our Sickness
Sin means nothing other than separation. We have been separated – isolated – from our true being, separated from the living experience of our own true nature and the true nature of one another – and of the world. This knowledge is the secret key to understanding all that is happening around us and in us. Knowing this is the only way to understand all of the superficial symptoms of our human behavior.
Is it any wonder that we human beings reach out and try to fill this emptiness, try to complete ourselves, in ways that are ultimately harmful to us and to the community? We become ‘unfaithful’ to the spirit because we are in desperate need. How can we ever condemn another human being for their behavior once we have seen with Christ’s eyes into our humanity? Then, when we see in his light, we see the ‘tempting power’ of this weakness in us and not ‘the sting [thorn] of evil’ in the earthly human heart.
Indeed, this is the magic gift of sight that Jesus gives to those with the stones in their hands. He does not tell them to put the stones down. He asks them to look into themselves and see what they find there, “Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to cast a stone.” They themselves turn and leave, because they recognize: we are not free of this illness, the same one that afflicts this child of God before us. They now know, through Jesus’ help, that they too have contracted it and acted out of it. And Jesus then asks the woman, “Where are they? Has no one condemned you?” “No one, Lord,” she answers. “Neither do I condemn you.” When we gaze through the eyes of the Healer, we cannot condemn. Instead, we are filled with compassionate understanding.
The Light of Life
Such compassionate understanding is more than just light; it does more than make things clear. It begins the healing process itself. When we stand before Christ’s truth-filled gaze we certainly feel deeply vulnerable, but never exposed. It has the profound effect of gifting us with new forces for life. Knowing that we ourselves are grieving in every part of who we are for what we have lost orients us like nothing else to the reality of our situation. Now, the true medicine for our sickness can be sought; now we know what we are missing, what we so deeply need.
The Healing Medicine
It is this clear vision of our human situation, of course, that led the being we call ‘Christ’ to decide to come to earth in the first place. He could see the depths of our affliction and what we had lost. To give us a body and blood and breath in full union with the divine spirit – to offer us the spirit-fullness of Easter – was what the World-Physician recognized was needed. Through Golgotha, what we had lost is restored: “Godhead is given again to Man” it says in the Act of Consecration. And so we come to this service to heal, to receive that which completes us, unites us with one another, with the divine; we take communion. It is the only medicine that can truly heal the illness of our isolation, our separation from what we have lost.
Communion at home?
And now, for most of us, we see around the world that access to this communion, this healing medicine – indeed access to the very festival of healing itself (Easter) – is being denied human beings. Communities are being forbidden to gather and celebrate the most significant event in the whole story of the earth and humanity and renew the reception of its healing forces and power.
But Easter is more powerful than any such orders. Dear congregation, we are now heading into the holiest week of the year and each of us, each individual household, can do something to open up a window to these healing Easter forces, to the gift of the healing medicine. Whether you may be here at the community building at one point during this time or whether you will be at your home, the church is not a building. It is the invisible love-bond, a kind of spiritual blood that makes us into Christ’s community body. It is the place where his healing forces can be felt by any individual. It is made up of the ‘building stones’ of every person who “is aware of the health-bringing power of the Christ” (from the ‘Creed’ of the Christian Community). So it is that we, your priests, hope and pray that you may take up this or that intentional practice of connecting with the living presence of the Healer and feel yourselves in communion with him, with us, with each other and with all of humanity.
Rev. Patrick Kennedy