Harrowing Of Hell
August 21, 2022

Can You See Yourself in Her?

The Rev. Nathan Kirkpatrick

Her symptoms had started almost two decades
before we meet her in the pages of St Luke’s gospel.

By the time our paths cross,
who knows if she could even remember that first day —
that first day when something felt off in her body —
that day when she thought
perhaps it was just a bit of back trouble,
maybe too much lifting, too much carrying,
that day when she hoped
that maybe
with a bit of rest, maybe some heat,
everything would just go back to normal.

By the time we meet her, eighteen years later,
I wonder if she could remember that day
when the pain was so intense that it bent her over,
when she could no longer do the things
expected of a woman in that time in history —
when her neighbors, her family, her friends
had to fetch the water and go to the market,
work the fields, care for the kids and the household.

Could she tell us — would she tell us
about what it felt like
when her vision of the world collapsed
when she lost the horizon out there
and could only see what was right before her feet.

Would she tell us about the day
when she had exhausted
all the medical wisdom and know-how of her age,
when she knew that this was not going away —
this was not a temporary condition but a new way of being?

Would she tell us when her family, her friends,
when the neighbors lost their compassion?
When they stopped saying that she was injured or ill —
when they stopped checking in and bringing casseroles,
when they started saying that she had a spirit
— an evil spirit — that had changed her.

Could she tell us when she decided to join the crowd at the Temple —
that crowd that to the religious leaders of the day
was just a sea of nameless need,
a distraction from their service of holy things?

Could she tell us when —
it was sometime in the last eighteen years,
sometime before we meet her in the pages of St. Luke’s gospel.

But on this particular day,
when we meet her,
she was there in the Temple,
minding the few feet of earth
in front of her feet
that had become her world.
But on this particular day,
someone called to her, called for her.
And no one ever called to her, called for her.
No one ever acknowledged her, noticed her.
No one celebrated her presence with a word.
But Jesus did.

“Woman,” he said.
“Rise up. Stand up. You are free.”
And for the first time
in eighteen years
she lifted her head
and praised God.

Now, as careful readers of Scripture, you know that
whatever happened in this exchange with Jesus
was not just physiological, biological.
This was not just about diagnosis or treatment.
This was not about healing alone.
Today, we might say that this was about
integrative medicine — about her whole being.
This was about her dignity, about her humanity,
about her inherent worth
and her wholeness.
You heard Jesus, right?
When he was challenged by the religious leaders
about why he would care for her
and why he would care for her on the sabbath day, no less,
his response was clear —
“this daughter of Abraham,”
this child of the covenant,
this beloved of God
needed to be set free
from anything and everything
that had bound her
for the last eighteen years.
And nothing would stop him from doing that.

I wonder this Sunday morning
if you know something about this woman’s life.

Maybe you know something
about living with chronic pain — literal or metaphorical.

Maybe you know something
about being bent down
by the weight of your world
or the weight of the world,
about being weighed down
by anxiety or addiction or depression;
maybe you know something
about the toll that
injustice or oppression takes
on a body, on a soul,
on your body, on your soul.

Or maybe you know something about
having others measure your worth
by what you do for them —
by your output, your productivity,
your contribution to the bottomline,
and when you can’t do that anymore,
maybe you know something
about wondering what your life means
— or if your life matters.
Or maybe you know something about
when the compassion of others has been exhausted,
when your pain stops being noticed.
When they stop asking.
When there are no more casseroles or cards coming,
and you wonder if anybody sees you.

This Sunday morning if you know something about this woman’s life,
if in her face, you can find your own reflection,
the Good News this Sunday morning is simple:
You are not alone.

Jesus looks at you, looks at me,
and says, “My child.”
Whether it has been eight weeks, eight months,
eighteen years or an entire lifetime,
Jesus says that it doesn’t matter
what has held you,
what has bound you,
“my child, lift up your head.”
Because you are the beloved of God,
you are meant to know your dignity,
you are meant for wholeness,
you are meant for life.

As with some many of these stories in the gospels,
there is no epilogue to her story.
We don’t know what happened later that afternoon
when she went home, went back to her life,
when she was reunited with friends and family.
We don’t know what happened the next day
when she went back to the well to fetch water,
back to the market, or out to the fields
for the first time in two decades.
We don’t know what she told them
about what happened to her,
about what Jesus had said to her or done for her.
In many ways, it’s not the point.

The question is not what she did do
with the dignity, the hope, the life
she found that Sabbath day in the Temple.
The question is, of course —
what will we do
after Jesus says to us,
“My child, lift up your head.
The world is waiting for you.”?