A Sensory Prayer –
God of touch, whose hands formed us in creation, whose fingers touched the leper’s skin, whose touch halted the funeral bier, stroked the face of Mary, and felt the pain of pounded nails, hear us this night as we come to you in worship.
As we extend our hand to touch that of our neighbor, let us feel your presence here and now.
As we run our fingers over the skin of that other, help us to feel what you must have felt, the warmth, the roughness, the softness of human contact.
We come this night to be touched with the grace that leads to life.
We come this night to be touched by your Spirit, stricken with your Word, which was made flesh, pricked in conscience by your stern insistence that this… the touch of skin, the feel of the neighbor, is what you came to die for.
Move in us this night, Lord Jesus, as you touch us with your love and grace, and open us to be healed and raised to life, by your powerful hand. Amen.
I am trying to imagine this scene in a modern context, because I don’t think we can quite access it in our mind’s eye as it is here.
At least I can’t.
No, whenever I read this story my mind goes into the kind of soft focus “Jesus of Nazareth” mode of picturing things, where like some Cecil B. DeMille “Sword and Sandal” epic Jesus sort of floats into the scene and touches the funeral bier and all are amazed.. but it is after all Jesus… and this kind of thing can be expected. His touch does things.
So to access this as it must have been I have to put it into a modern context and place the events into what is familiar for me.
I have to picture a funeral here at St. James, and the casket lying astride the sanctuary with the flowers carefully placed.
I have to picture that I’ve done the liturgy, talked about us consoling one another with the consolation that comes from God alone.
I have to imagine that we’ve had the eulogy, that the grieving loved ones have already begun to make their peace with the events of loss.
“How Great Thou Art” or “Amazing Grace” is playing and the congregation is singing, and the funeral director comes down the aisle to signal the pall bearers, who stand and prepare to walk out ahead of the casket as it is wheeled down the aisle for the final time to the waiting hearse, and just as they get about ½ way down the aisle, a man I do not know stands up, steps into the aisle and says “do not weep” and then reaches out and touches the casket and the whole procession stops, as the organ drones, and all eyes snap to see what is going on…..
How does that feel? How does that touch you?
See, I think we can imagine a lot of things about this, but the key this night is knowing what to do with this moment of touch, where someone raises their hand and stops the funeral procession, and really, death itself– right in its tracks.
How does that feel?
Would we want to feel a touch like that?
This is the question that Lent begs in us as it calls us to consider our lives, consider our walk of faith, consider the rhythm that our life settles into because this really is all about rhythm of life here.
Funerals do that to us.
Funerals put us on a kind of “auto-pilot” where we do the things that are expected.
The casserole shows up.
The lunch is planned.
The card is purchased and sent.
We go to the viewing, or the visitation, or the memorial service. – The Rhythm of it all.
In the midst of what is a great upheaval, the loss of a loved one we more than probably find solace and refuge in the rhythms of the expected.
Just let me get through this moment, this step, and then I’ll take another.
We go to the funeral director, the pastor, and the cremation society… and they have everything all mapped out for us already. What to do next, what decisions need to be made, what wishes the loved one may have had.
The predictable order makes the steps somehow easier, more bearable.
But with a touch Jesus inserts himself here, suddenly what was predictable now is thrown completely out of order.
What is expected does not take place.
There will be no burial, not this day, a mother gets her son back, at least for a time.
Those who have fallen silent have something to say again, and palpable fear seizes everyone, as I’m sure it would if the casket were halted mid roll down the aisle and popped open to reveal the loved one back among the living.
Rhythm, the expected order of things, — gone!
How do you handle that?
What do you do with that?
Is that the kind of touch that we would want, would welcome?
I ask these questions of myself, because quite frankly I am quite content with the order of my life. It is predictable, even if it is a slow descent into death.
I’m quite comfortable with Lent, Holy Week, and Easter as I have carved it out in the rhythm of my life. My greatest challenge is to figure out what to serve for Easter Dinner, as I am sure that life will unfold just the way I have it planned, the way it always does.
But what if Jesus were to step out and halt the procession for me?
Would I want this touch of his, that turns the well-ordered rhythm of my life on its end?
Can I stop it?