Holy WeekPosted: April 18, 2019 Filed under: Bishop's Blog Comments Off on Holy Week
My wise son shared the following story with me from Ben Quash’s book “Abide.”
One of the greatest female saints of the early Church was a woman named Macrina. She lived from around 330 until her death on 19 July, 379—a death that was recorded lovingly and in considerable detail by one of her brothers, Gregory of Nyssa. Gregory revered his older sister. She was an inspiration to him.
He calls her a Mother, Father, Teacher, Tutor, Advice-Giver, all in one.
He says that she was angelic—perfect in virtue and beautiful—but she was human; her profound holiness is grounded in her life, her relationships, and her place. Gregory was present at Macrina’s death almost by accident.
He was a hard-pressed bishop in difficult times, and had not had an opportunity to visit his sister for some years, when he found himself traveling near the community where she lived and he decided to go to her. As he drew close, he was met by a servant that warned him that his sister was gravely ill.
They took him to the holy dwelling in which his sister was lying, “terribly afflicted with weakness.” He doesn’t know it yet, but she only had one more night to live, and will die the following day. These precious hours give Gregory the opportunity for a series of intense and moving final conversations with her, in which she recalls the blessings of her life and shares them with him. Then progressively, as the final day of her life slips by, her speech becomes wholly prayer, her prayer (as her voice fails) becomes wholly silent prayer, and finally she passes from this life.
At Macrina’s request, Gregory is closely involved in the preparation of her body for burial, as well as with her funeral. It is in the preparation of her body that he encounters a scar, a small faint mark below her neck. It turns out that Macrina had in earlier times had a life-threatening tumor on that spot, which resulted in an open sore and which was so near her heart as to make it inoperable.
But she found herself the recipient of a miracle of healing, in which the tears shed during long prayers were mixed with the mud of the sanctuary where she prayed, and this mud—applied to her breast by her mother in the sign of the cross—was followed by an extraordinary recovery.
All that was left of that event was the scar, a sign of her fragility and weakness, but also a token of God’s powerful help.
The story of the miracle is itself remarkable, but what was also remarkable to Gregory was the scar. The healing was not the eradication of all signs of the tumor.
The skin does not revert back to total, unbroken smoothness. A mark on the skin abides, as a sign of what has happened.
If Holy Week is about anything, it is about the scars that are inflicted upon Jesus that bring healing.
Isaiah 53:5 reminds us:
But he was wounded for our transgressions,
crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the punishment that made us whole,
and by his bruises we are healed.
When we remember the last night of Jesus’ life around a table, there is the anticipation of betrayal, a scar to the soul of Jesus. By the end of Friday, the one we call Good Friday, Jesus’ body bears scars that come from being beaten and bruised. Nailed to the cross, speared in the side.
By the scars of Jesus, we are healed, made whole. Everybody I know who has lived long enough has scars.
You have scars. I have scars. Our bodies are covered with memories of our missteps, falls, cuts, and surgeries, by harm done to us and by us.
The scars are visible reminders of the wounds we’ve absorbed as we’ve lived life. We have places on our skin that have not returned to unbroken smoothness.
We have also experienced wounds in life that give our souls scars.
- Wounds from grief.
- Wounds from illness.
- Wounds from relationships.
- Wounds from failure.
- Wounds that others have inflicted upon you.
- Self-inflicted wounds.
We live in a world in which it is always possible, or so it seems, to wipe our slates clean. We delete all the old pictures from our FB or Instagram accounts and move on. We clean out the closets. Move to a new house. Pick a new career. You throw yourself into a new relationship. We cover up our scars and pretend like they are not there.
But, many of us have wounds that abide, that linger, that impair us. Unresolved anger or grief. Fears. Questions. Shame or guilt. Feelings of inadequacy.
And as much as we like to pretend that they’re not there; as much as we want to pretend that we’ve started over, we feel the rough edges of the scars. Our wounds abide with us whether we want them to or not.
The message of Holy Week and Easter is this—through the mystery of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, we are transformed. By the amazing grace of God’s healing we are given a second chance.
We come to the table on Maundy Thursday and receive the gifts of bread and wine. This holy meal is given for us. We are among those Jesus calls friends. By such, we are called to participate in a holiness of heart and life. When we rise from the table, we are sent into the world to love as we have been loved, scars and all.
John, one of my best friends in the world, has had a month-long hospital stay due to a complicated heart challenge. For days he was unconscious and unresponsive. We doubted if we would ever see John again, and if we did, we wondered what his prospects of a healthy life were.
Today, John was released from the hospital and able to be home. He is doing pretty well, given where he has been.
About 10 days ago, in the night, when things were not yet certain for John, he called me. He was alone in his hospital room and had grown anxious. He said, “When my wife goes home and I am alone in this hospital bed, I become very frightened about my prospects of a future.” I then asked John to recount all the positive signs that had come to him in the last few days.
I then said, “John, you have experienced a resurrection.” It was true. John knew it and I knew it. From that moment forward, John has made steady progress which made his release from the hospital possible.
While he had no visible scars, no surgery performed, he was bearing under the weight equivalent of a deep scar. And he is being healed. His lifestyle will change. But in his heart of hearts, he is a new creature in Christ.
May the love of Christ come to you through this Holy Season and bring you healing for your scars, visible or not, so that you may experience the fullness of resurrection.