Now he was teaching in one of the synagogues on the sabbath. And just then there appeared a woman with a spirit that had crippled her for eighteen years. She was bent over and was quite unable to stand up straight. When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said, "Woman, you are set free from your ailment." When he laid his hands on her, immediately she stood up straight and began praising God. But the leader of the synagogue, indignant because Jesus had cured on the sabbath, kept saying to the crowd, "There are six days on which work ought to be done; come on those days and be cured, and not on the sabbath day." But the Lord answered him and said, "You hypocrites! Does not each of you on the sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the manger, and lead it away to give it water? And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen long years, be set free from this bondage on the sabbath day?" When he said this, all his opponents were put to shame; and the entire crowd was rejoicing at all the wonderful things that he was doing. -Luke 13:10-17
About This Week's Prompts for Personal Meditation
A woman afflicted with a bent back, who, for 18 years looked only at the ground, is healed by Jesus on the Sabbath Day. On this day of days, the holy of holies, she experiences a foretaste of resurrection. And she didn't even ask - she just happened to be near Jesus at the right time. Jesus faced the sacred moment: so did the woman.
This causes controversy of course. But the leader of the synagogue, indignant because Jesus had cured on the sabbath, kept saying to the crowd, "There are six days on which work ought to be done; come on those days and be cured, and not on the sabbath day."
But the Lord answered him and said, "You hypocrites! Does not each of you on the sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the manger, and lead it away to give it water? And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen long years, be set free from this bondage on the sabbath day?" Luke 13:14-16
If it were me, I'd accept healing any day - but healing on the Sabbath day brings home even more profoundly the hope of resurrection, transformation, peace, fulfillment.
For this week's meditation process, I went first to one of my favorite and continually inspiring books, Abraham Heschel's The Sabbath (meditation one). I chose a prayer of Augustine's for healing in body and soul (meditation two). Niceta urges the church to seek Christ for healing (meditation three).
It occurs to me for the first time that praying in the sphere of Christ is like praying in the sphere of the Sabbath. But then, Jesus did say, "I am the resurrection..." Let us offer one another prayers for insight, healing, and hope, and let us live Sabbath graces in a troubled, difficult world as a sign of God's reign.
Standing up straight, -Suzanne
Meditation One (introit) Facing the Sacred Moments
The higher goal of spiritual living is not to amass a wealth of information, but to face sacred moments. ...
The meaning of the Sabbath is to celebrate time rather than space. Six days a week we live under the tyranny of things of space; on the Sabbath we try to become attuned to holiness in time. It is a day on which we are called upon the share in what is eternal in time, to turn from the results of creation to the mystery of creation; from the world of creation to the creation of the world. -Abraham Joshua Heschel, 1907-1972 The Sabbath
Gherarducci, Gradual, circa 1370
O what their joy and their glory must be those endless Sabbaths the blessed ones see; crown for the valiant, to weary ones rest: God shall be all, and in all ever blest.
Truly, “Jerusalem” name we that shore, city of peace that brings joy ever more; wish and fulfillment are not severed there, nor do things prayed for come short of the prayer.
There, where no troubles distraction can bring, we the sweet anthems of Zion shall sing; while for thy grace, Lord, their voices of praise thy blessed people eternally raise.
Now, in the meantwhile, with hearts raised on high, we for that country must yearn and must sigh, seeking Jerusalem, dear native land, through our long exile on Babylon's strand.
Low before him with our praises we fall, of whom, and in whom, and through whom are all; of whom the Father; and in whom, the Son; through whom, the Spirit, with them ever One.
-Peter Abelard 1079-1142 trans. John Mason Neale 1818-1866
Gherarducci, Gradual, 1395
Meditation Two (insight) A plea for healing
O Holy Spirit, Love of God, powerful Advocate and sweetest Comforter, infuse Thy grace and descend plentifully into my heart, for in whomsoever Thou dwellest, the Father and the Son come likewise and inhabit that breast. ...O come, Thou Cleanser of all inward pollutions, and Healer of spiritual wounds and diseases. ... Come, in much mercy, and make me fit to receive Thee. -St. Augustine, 354-430 exerpt from Treatise on the Love of God
The Word became flesh to communicate to us human beings caught in the mud, the pain, the fears and the brokenness of existence, the life, the joy, the communion, the ecstatic gift of love that is the source of all love and life and unity in our universe and that is the very life of God.
-Jean Vanier, b.1928
Meditation Three (integration) Living into the Resurrection If you would be wise, ask him who is wisdom. When it is too dark for you to see, seek Christ, for he is the light. Are you sick? Have recourse to him who is both doctor and health. Have no fear whatever of death, for Christ is the life of those who believe. Would you know by whom the world was made and all things are sustained? Believe in him, for his is the arm and right hand. Are you afraid of this or that? Remember that on all occasions he will stand by your side like an angel. If you are afraid that your body is failing and have a dread of death, remember that he is the resurrection, and can raise up what has fallen. -Niceta, 1155-c1217 The Names and Titles of Our Saviour Quoted from Gail Ramshaw's Treasures Old and New: Images in the Lectionary
The Last Word Hope is the struggle of the soul, breaking loose from what is perishable, and attesting her eternity.
-Herman Melville, 1819-1891
Of COURSE Jesus healed on the Sabbath! The Sabbath is the sphere of heaven hovering, resting over earth, merging with earth, tantalizing us with the hope of completion and healing, justice and mercy and beauty and rest. Jesus, the Word made flesh, joined heaven to earth and earth to heaven, as we say in the Christmas blessing. And heaven, of course, not as a place in the sky (do I even have to say this?) but a quality, an influence, a consciousness, a beauty at the heart of the unfolding universe and in the dark unknown of the soul.
But then I got thinking. What makes human beings even conceive of the possibility of a heaven, Nirvana, Valhalla, Elysium, Paradise, or that vague euphemism whispered in funeral parlors, “a better place” ? Why is the the human imagination predisposed to the idea of any sort of life after death? Maybe we sense eternal consciousness passing through us within time. So our ideas of an afterlife come from an intuition of that part of us that, for lack of a better word, borrows us for self-revelation. When we “bliss out” we “lose ourselves” to eternity, although we may “return” in a flash. These are words we use to describe the indescribable. People who have mystical experience confess that the Reality of connecting nothingness or everythingness makes ordinary life seem “fake”. Similarly, I've interviewed plenty of people who experienced clinical death who fear death no more. (They would pass on the pain part, but death itself is anything but fearful.)
Here's a thought experiment: imagine that sentient beings participate in co-creating heaven through our evolving consciousness. Heaven unfolds and evolves as we do - with battles between good and evil takes place on the heavenly planes (as in the vision of John the Divine) as well as on earth. Heaven is what our evolving consciousness will make it - characterized by universal compassion or strident exclusivity. We influence the sphere of becoming.
Unfortunately, if the heaven we're creating is anything like the heaven we are destroying - this magnificent, beautiful, diverse, teeming earth - heaven won't be much different from the consequences of our suicidal denials we already see creeping from the edges of nature.
That Jesus healed on the Sabbath is the very sign we're looking for. Not because he is a promise of some future “better place” we'll deserve when we die. But because he calls us to act beyond convention, as if the very soul of heaven is at stake - not just for ourselves but for all being. A Dreamer's dream we dream and love and sacrifice and die for.