We are fast approaching lent during this sermon series on healing. Ash Wednesday is next week. We will feel thumbs pressed to our foreheads and feel the grit of the ashes as they blear into the shape of a cross and we are reminded that we are dust.
It’s a sobering juxtaposition—all this talk of healing and this rude reminder that, seemingly, the best that all the healing in the world can do is delay the inevitable.
I’d like to submit for us this week that Ash Wednesday reminds us what healing is and is not about. Without Ash Wednesday, with its grim reminder of our mortality, we might be tempted to believe that God’s healing is meant only for our comfort, to stave off pain and stave off death. But when we remember that our human condition entails an end, we are pressed to see more in healing. Jesus’ healing is less about allaying our fear of death or kicking that can further down the road, his healings are also invitations into his kingdom.
We see this throughout the New Testament. Jesus find the marginalized, the paralyzed, the ostracized and he says, follow me. For Jesus, healing is about restoring us to a place where we can see and serve Jesus faithfully. The leper was ritually unclean—Jesus’ restoration allows him back into a community of worship. The lame man by the pool of Bethesda had been denied dignity and access—Jesus empowers him with agency. Healing proclaims that a new thing is happening in our world and that everyone—everyone—is included. The purpose of Jesus’ healing isn’t just that we not die; his purpose is that we might truly live.
There’s one more part of these healings that reminds me of lent. In most cases, those Jesus healed had to take a step (sometimes only a metaphorical step) in Jesus’ direction. They had to go out of their way, had to risk something, so that they could find themselves near to Jesus. Lent invites us to go out of our way. So much of our daily lives run on autopilot, with well-worn paths that mark our our routine. In Lent, we nudge ourselves just a little off those comfortable paths with habits of prayer, fasting, and giving. And in the discomfort of that movement, we find ourselves drawn near to Jesus.
So, yes, there’s some irony in approaching Ash Wednesday and the lenten season with our focus on healing. But if you can manage the strangeness, I invite you to come and remember that you are dust and come experience the discomforting rhythms of lent and just see if you don’t find Jesus—and his healing touch.