A woman “afflicted with hemorrhages for twelve years…She had heard about Jesus and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak. She said, ‘If I but touch his clothes, I shall be cured.’”
This has been a busy week pastorally speaking – more so as we are more open in this (hopefully) post-pandemic period. It has been one of those weeks when tragedy, misfortune, fate, calamity, heart break, and adversity all seem to set up camp in the parish. Almost all the stories are profoundly personal, and however illustrative and grace filled, are not for retelling in a homily.
But I was profoundly aware of how much the priest and the people of this parish touch the lives of others. And while it is true other lives have been touched, meaning affected, impacted, and changed, I am mainly thinking about literally touching. This week touching has run the gamut from sacramental anointing, ministerial laying-on of hands, and all that attends to the priestly presence to the sick, the ill and the dying – to the moments of a hand on a shoulder for comfort, for solace, or for “there-is-nothing-to-say-but-I-am-here” kind of touch. A meal cooked for a grieving family handed over – and a moment’s touch – “we’re here if you need us”. A hug that says I understand. A hug that says I am sorry. A hug that says I am not going anywhere. A hug that says I am home.
Moments of reaching out to be touched. The small arms of child raised to a parent – pick me up, hold me, let me know I am safe. The arms of an adult raised up in prayer – pick me up Lord and hold me – I don’t know if I can take much more. All there: the need for connection, for healing and hope, for love and so much more…so much more.
Every time the Greek word for “touch” hapto is used in Mark, it is related to healing. When Jairus comes to Jesus, he equates the “laying on of hands” with “salvation” (or “healing”) and “life”. “My daughter is at the point of death. Please, come lay your hands on her that she may get well and live.” The image of “touch” seems to be written into the fabric and the Scripture readings of the week.
But the week’s nightfall brings a new dawn, a new day, time to prepare a homily, time to gather as a community in the midst of the everyday, the ordinary, and the regular– and a spark of memory of a piece written years ago by Ann Weems about being Church and touching
What is all this touching in church?
It used to be a person could come to church and sit in the pew
and not be bothered by all this friendliness
and certainly not by touching.
I used to come to church and leave untouched.
Now I have to be nervous about what’s expected of me.
I have to worry about responding to the person sitting next to me.
Oh, I wish it could be the way it used to be;
I could just ask the person next to me: How are you?
And the person could answer: Oh, just fine,
And we’d both go home . . . strangers who have known each other for twenty years.
But now the minister asks us to look at each other.
I’m worried about that hurt look I saw in that woman’s eyes.
Now I’m concerned, because when the minister asks us to share a sign of peace,
The man next to me held my hand so tightly
I wondered if he had been touched in years.
Now I’m upset because the lady next to me cried and then apologized
And said it was because I was so kind and that she needed
A friend right now.
Now I have to get involved.
Now I have to suffer when this community suffers.
Now I have to be more than a person coming to observe a service.
That man last week told me I’d never know how much I’d touched his life.
All I did was smile and tell him I understood what it was to be lonely.
Lord, I’m not big enough to touch and be touched!
What if I disappoint somebody?
What if I’m too pushy?
What if I cling too much?
What if somebody ignores me?
We speak and respond: “The peace of the Lord be with you.” “And with you.”
And we are supposed to mean it.Lord, now I can’t resist meaning it!
I’m touched by it, I’m enveloped by it!
I find I do care about that person next to me!
I find I am involved!
And I’m scared.
O Lord, be here beside me.
You touch me, Lord, so that I can touch and be touched!
So that I can care and be cared for!
So that I can share my life with all those others that belong to you!
All this touching in church — Lord, it’s changing me!
Isn’t that the point? The young girl and the unnamed women were healed and restored to the fullness of life – all because they reached out and were touched by God. So many people consoled and comforted in the simple act of touch. It is what changes us. It is what makes us Church.