SERMON PREACHED BY THE REV’D ALLAN B. WARREN
III AT THE CHURCH OF THE ADVENT, BOSTON
JUNE 28, 2015, THE FIFTH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST
The first two lessons we heard this morning are quite straightforward and need no detailed comment. And so what I want to do for the sermon is to look at the Gospel. It is taken from St Mark. It is the account of the healing of Jairus’ daughter. Most of us know the story well, and it seems to be uncomplicated and straightforward like the first two lessons.
But this is not the case. There is more going on in the Gospel than appears at first glance. And it is worth our while taking a closer look and thinking about possible deeper meanings.
In the first place, the account itself stands out in the Gospel of Mark. It is quite uncharacteristic of the author. As most of you know well, the pace of the narrative in Mark is breathless. He moves his story right along; “immediately,” for instance, is his favorite word. Yet here in this account St Mark lingers over the story. He provides details and names: “Jairus,” for example; and the daughter is twelve years old, and he quotes Jesus in His own language, Aramaic, and we are given the varying reactions of the crowds. All this detail is rare in Mark. Usually his report is extremely brief. A vignette, rather than a story.
And also, do you recall our Lord’s injunction at the end? To quote: “And He strictly charged them not to let anyone know.” Does it occur to you how puzzling this is – almost ridiculous? The house is surrounded by people who have gathered to mourn. Some of them, we’re told, are eager to have Jesus make a fool of Himself. All those people waiting to see what’s going to happen, and when it does, Jesus commands them to tell no one about it?
How can this be? And what does all of this mean? In the first place, the wealth of detail and the unusual style of the story may well indicate that Mark is passing on to us what came to him as an eyewitness account. Perhaps Mark knew someone – or knew someone who knew someone – who had actually been there and seen it. Could be? Maybe so. Maybe not.
But the odd injunction at the end? Well, this, I think, is a kind of literary signal. St Mark is telling us – by this out of place and, in fact, ridiculous command – that the miracle is to be understood on more than one level. It is not just an example of supernatural pyrotechnics, so to speak. None of Jesus’ miracles are that. No. This miracle, like all of Jesus’ miracles, has a meaning beyond the obvious. And it is that meaning which is crucial for those who read the Gospel to grasp, because it tells us something about who Jesus is and, therefore, what we may expect from Him.
So, let’s go back and look at the story once more.
Jairus’ daughter is near death. And the man, a prominent Jew, goes out to find Jesus to ask His help. Jairus is beside himself and will do anything – even call on this off-beat rabbi – to save his daughter. He finds Jesus, and they return to his home. And already there is a tumult. They have declared the young girl dead, and the serious business of mourning has begun. Indeed, the mourners have so “gotten into their act,” so to speak, that they resent the intrusion of this rabbi/healer and make fun of him.
But Jesus quickly and calmly deals with the tumult and confusion. Everyone around him is swept up into it, even enjoying it, but Jesus takes charge. He takes the mother and father and two disciples and goes to the room of the dead girl. Only twelve years old and dead.
And what is death, good people? For the ancient Hebrews it was just as fearsome as it is for us, but it also had a meaning. And the key to its meaning is this: death is unnatural. Death is not intended by God. Life is what is natural. It was life that God created, not death. Death was the result of disobedience and alienation from God. Death entered human life as the result of man’s transgression of God’s law. Death, then, was a disorder which followed upon a previous disorder. Death was a return to chaos and confusion and disorder. Death was a descent into the nothingness which existed before creation.
And so you see, on the theological level, the story in the Gospel this morning is about the restoration of what is natural, the dispelling of chaos, and the restoration of order. The scene is one of tumult; things gone awry and out of joint. Weeping, mourning – death, the specter of death, the idea of death has taken hold and afflicted all with its disorder. But then there is Jesus, and Jesus takes charge. Jesus takes charge and once again, in microcosm, God creates an ordered world, where before there was chaos. “She is not dead, but sleeping,” says the Lord, and they laugh. “Talitha cumi” – “Little girl, I say to you, arise.” And she does.
Dear brothers and sisters. I cannot speak for you but I can speak for myself. There is a great deal of chaos and disorder and even death in my life. Disobedience too – all those things that threaten to destroy. If you are like me, then there is one thing – and one thing only – for us to do: like Jairus, go to Jesus. Go to Jesus and ask Him to take charge. God to Jesus, and He will take charge, for it was He who on the cross undid the original disobedience that led to death. It was He who on the cross ordered again the disorder brought by sin. It is He who makes life natural again and dispels the chaos. Go to Jesus. God to Jesus. Go to Jesus. He is the Savior who takes charge, and with His risen life we too may rise.