A brief meditation I delivered at St. George’s Round Church at Choral Evensong on the Feast of St. Luke the Evangelist, October 18th, 2015.
Over the last number of weeks my wife has been updating me from time to time about some friends of hers from out West, from her University days, friends whom I have never met.
My wife made friends with the Jamie in her second year of University, during the course of their friendship Jamie met her future husband at their church, eventually getting married, and having three children.
Sean, a pastor, has a website where he has, for the last year, been posting things like sermon templates and other resources for their church in British Columbia, as well as updating friends and family on what’s happening in their lives.
On July 26th of this year he posted the first in an ongoing series of posts on his blog. This is how that first post starts:
Title: I have cancer.
Never did I think I would utter those three words. Even as I write this I cannot help but think this is all a dream. I can’t have cancer. I am a healthy, 39 year old male. This page is to capture the journey my family and I are about to embark upon.
Initially his diagnosis was colon cancer, but as time wore on and he was subjected to more and more medical tests he found out that it was not just colon cancer, but liver cancer as well. What he writes on his website are brief snippets of the everyday: worries, thoughts, fears—not of someone who pretends to have the answers, but of someone facing this to the first time, someone afraid, someone suffering.
Just this week he wrote this:
The past few weeks have been quite difficult around our household. I have been the sickest I have ever been and have absolutely NO energy to do anything. Depression has wrapped itself around me and is tightening its grip. Last night I went to put my son to bed. We went through our evening ritual: the brushing of teeth, the emptying of the bladder, story, prayer, song and snuggles. It wasn’t a normal evening though as I hadn’t been feeling all that great. I was nauseous and just wanted to curl up on the couch and feel sorry for myself. We got through the first few evening routines but it was story time now. I started to read him his story but only got 3 pages into the story before I had to make a mad dash to the bathroom. Let’s just say throwing up is not something I enjoy doing. After my bathroom experience, I returned to his room to finish off our evening routine. I sat next to him, he placed his book into my lap and I began to read. After I finished reading, ‘Awesome Trucks’ we snuggled under the covers and I began to pray over him and sing him his favourite song, Be Lifted Up. It was great laying there with my son, watching him fall fast asleep, but before his eyes closed, he uttered the 7 most powerful words I have heard in a long time. He grabbed my hand and said, “Daddy, I want Jesus to heal you.” That was it! Those 7 powerful words pierced my heart.
I am not sure that there could be a more perfect or succinct way of phrasing what is the deepest longing of each and every one of our hearts and souls: to be healed.
Today we celebrate the feast of St. Luke the Evangelist, St. Luke the Physician.
We do not know a great deal about St. Luke. We know that he was from Antioch and that he authored both the Gospel that bears his name and the Book of Acts.
We know too from St. Paul’s epistle to the Colossians that Luke was physician—a doctor—who practiced in his home city of Antioch, now in modern Syria. He was a disciple of St. Paul’s, following him until his (That is, St. Paul’s) martyrdom, and tradition holds that Luke himself was also an artist, a writer of icons.
He may be called the Apostle or the Evangelist, but it is Luke the Physician that our propers for the feast from the Book of Common Prayer direct our prayers towards; as our Collect says for today, “Almighty God, who calledst Luke the Physician, whose praise is in the Gospel, to be an Evangelist, and Physician of the Soul…” In the Sunday Lections for a few of the Sundays around the Feast of St. Luke we have been hearing and will hear of Jesus healing various infirmities: the man sick with palsy, the sick son of the nobleman at Capernaum, and in a few weeks’ time the story of the healing of the woman with the issue of blood and the bringing-back-to-life of the Ruler’s daughter. It seems that even the lectionary at this time of year is drawing us into a consideration of what it means to suffer, what it means to be healed, and what the source of our healing is.
But what about those times when we are not healed?
What about all those people for whom we have prayed for healing, but who have succumbed to their illnesses? What about our friend with cancer in BC?
Our first reading for tonight, drawn from the book of Ecclesiasticus, gives praise to physicians and like our collect keeps us mindful that the health of body and soul are together linked, but that it is the health of our soul that should be desired most, Ecclesiasticus reminding us that before calling on the physician to heal our bodies we must first turn to God to heal our souls.
The healing offered by Jesus the Great Physician of our Soul is, as we know from our own lives, not always a healing that will take away someone’s cancer, nor is it a healing that will patch up the struggles and pains we have in our daily life, emotional, mental, or physical.
Rather, the healing that today’s collect looks forward to and that this feast calls us to recollect is that healing which has already been given, that healing which is our end, and is our salvation.
We suffer here and now as a consequence of our being mortal, but the here-and-now is not our end. It is not the place to which we are bound ultimately, it is not the place where the fullness of our salvation and healing is realized. Our end is in God and there is our health and there is the fullness of healing that Sean’s son desires for him, the same healing that we all desire.
Above my desk at home I have a post-it-note with a quote of Jesus’ from John’s Gospel. It has been there since last Winter and has been more of a help to me than I could have imagined when I wrote it. “In the world ye shall have tribulation, but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.”