Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’ After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. (John 20. 91-23)
‘Parting is such sweet sorrow’, as Shakespeare’s Juliet puts it. The reality is that, when we go our separate ways, either sweetness or sorrow often feels closer to the surface. As a community, you may well be divided in your feelings as Kaitlin and I leave. When I worked in a Christian retreat house, we had a saying to express these ambivalent feelings: ‘Some we love when they come,’ we would quip. ‘and some we love when they go.’ On the other hand, I find myself caught up in similar mixed emotions. I can’t help thinking of Bilbo Baggins’ farewell speech to his beloved Hobbiton in J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. Bilbo says this to those who have assembled for his birthday party, just before he leaves: “I don't know half of you half as well as I should like, and I like less than half of you half as well as you deserve.”
I am, of course, joking, but beneath all of these feelings – both the sweetness and the sorrow – lives an important recognition of brokenness. For some of you, I will, by God’s grace, have helped you to grow in Christ, and our bonds of fellowship and love will have flowered as a result, helping us both to find the abundance of life in Christ. For others of you, however, I will have been an obstacle to faith, a difficult priest to understand, preventing bonds of trust from growing between us, perhaps even preventing God from working in you.
I am aware that we all need healing and wholeness to overcome the ways in which we are broken and the ways in which we break others. I suppose I wanted my final service to be one of healing and wholeness for both kinds of people I have ministered to here in Ingleby Barwick. To the first kind, I would want to say, give thanks to God for what we have shared together, let go of what holds you back, and receive abundant life from Christ. To the latter, I would want to say that I am sorry, please forgive me, and pray for me to be healed and made whole, just as I pray for you. In both cases, our individual and collective brokenness – whatever the source of that hurt and damage – can and will be taken by God into His healing peace.
I think that tonight’s Gospel gives us all a great sense of hope amidst our brokenness. In Christ’s body, we have telescoped together both hurt and healing. Jesus is the wounded healer. On the one side, Jesus’ body is crucified, subject to hate and violence; it bears the wounds he shows on his hands, and is left with the scars of painful memories. On the other side, however, Jesus’ body is risen, fully alive forever, and the source of God’s promise to give healing to all. ‘Peace be with you,’ Jesus says as he shows the scars on his hands. God’s shalom, God’s wholeness, God’s healing be with you, through these, Christ’s healed wounds. This divine gift of healing and wholeness is given to those who rejected Jesus by Jesus, even as they huddle together behind locked doors in fear. Jesus’ gift of peace comes in an unexpected place, the bottom of desperation, self-hatred, failure, hurt, and stress.
Jesus’ gift of healing and wholeness has two aspects to it. First, Jesus says, ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.’ God does not give us a gift just so that we can enjoy it, put it away, and bring it back out whenever we want to look at it again. Jesus shows us that healing is about receiving something from God, namely wholeness from our wounds, whether they are physical, emotional, psychological, or spiritual. God gives us this dynamic gift and an instruction to go and share that gift in whatever ways we discern that God wants us to. We can be the living reality of Jesus in our immediate community, the living reality of those wounds healed by God and offered to all.
Second, Jesus breathes on his followers and says ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.’ Healing and wholeness are hardly physical things here: the damage we inflict on others or ourselves through our actions or inaction – what we call ‘sin’ – puts us all in need of forgiveness. Jesus shows us that healing is about giving something to others from God, namely the wholeness of forgiveness, even where that seems an impossibly hard thing to share. It also charges us to think seriously about the consequences of not offering that same healing to those who have sinned against us. If we withhold the healing balm of forgiveness, we bind ourselves and others into unrelieved pain and suffering.
I hope that you will find the different parts of tonight’s service helpful in finding God’s wholeness and peace. We will have time to pray for the kinds of healing that others may need. We will have time to ask for forgiveness. We will have an opportunity for anointing with oil and the laying on of hands as physical signs of healing in our own lives or on behalf of others. ‘Healing’ is, of course, a broad term. The Gospels use the term 'healing' both for physical healing and for the broader salvation that Jesus brings. May you find what healing you need within the different parts of this service.
Saying ‘goodbye’ is difficult, but, in its root meaning, I can think of no better word. ‘Goodbye,’ God-be-with-you, a similar word perhaps to ‘Immanuel’, God-with-us. In that sentiment, there is only sweetness and no sorrow. May God be with you. God bless, God speed, until all is in all and we stand together, healed and whole forever in God’s kingdom.
Let us pray:
Our Lord Jesus Christ,
present with us now in His risen power,
enter into your body and spirit,
take from you all that harms and hinders you,
and fill you with his healing and peace.