Sermon Seeds: Healing Reign
Twenty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time Year C
Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost – Proper 16
Jeremiah 1:4-10 with Psalm 71:1-6 or
Isaiah 58:9b-14 with Psalm 103:1-8 and
Hebrews 12:18-29 and
Worship resources for the Twenty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time are at Worship Ways
by Kathryn M. Matthews
It’s a simple enough story: on the way to Jerusalem, while Jesus is teaching in a synagogue, a “bent-over” woman passing by evokes Jesus’ compassion. Does the woman ask for healing? No. Does Jesus seem to care that it’s the Sabbath, when healing non-life-threatening conditions is not permitted? No. Without being asked, he calls her over to him, and sets her free from her longtime ailment by placing his hands on her, just as one would in blessing. And the woman is blessed, and freed, and has sense enough to recognize the source of the freedom she’s been given at last, freedom from the little bit of square footage she’s been limited to visually for almost twenty years.
Now, is everyone amazed and grateful to witness such a thing? No, indeed. The leader of the synagogue is in fact upset by this breach of the Law and tells the crowd, which undoubtedly includes many others in need of healing (aren’t we all?), that they should come back tomorrow, when the timing will be more appropriate for such things as healing. The tension builds as Jesus heads toward Jerusalem and his death, and the lessons for us as disciples continue.
A simple enough story, it seems. But as in all biblical narratives, there is so much more to see. As always, when we consider the setting of the story, and its parallels with other stories, we begin to experience even more of its power and meaning. This isn’t the only time Jesus has healed on the Sabbath, or healed while teaching in the synagogue (or both). It isn’t the first time he’s provoked the religious leaders, and it won’t be the last.
“Always on a slant”
Sharon Ringe describes the situation of the bent-over woman very well, this condition that could be translated as “a spirit of weakness”: “Her weakness itself is regarded as the power that holds her captive to restricted movement, to the inability to meet another person face-to-face, and to a world defined by the piece of ground around her own toes or looked at always on a slant. The words that effect the healing deal with what has enslaved her” (Luke, Westminster Bible Companion).
Ironically, while this woman’s line of vision has been severely affected by her ailment these many years, she has no problem seeing the salvation standing before her in the person of Jesus, and recognizing the source of her healing. The crowd is also able to see God’s hand at work and to appreciate Jesus’ timing in spite of the objections of the religious leader. In fact, it’s the so-called religious experts in this small but powerful incident who seem least able to see the truth right before their eyes.
Remember back in chapter four of this Gospel when Jesus stood in another synagogue and began his ministry with a statement of intent to proclaim release to the captive? Remember the reaction of the crowd then, when they ran him out of town? Remember just a few verses before this passage, in Chapter 12, when Jesus said he had come to bring division (12:51)? The reaction to this healing is a good illustration of division: the religious leaders may be clueless and outraged, but the people are carried away with joy. Joy versus outrage: now, that is division.
Burdens carried into our churches
Woven into this story are several threads: the healing of a person who is pressed down, held bound by Satan, as Jesus describes her, is the most obvious. Each Sunday, all sorts of burdens are carried into our churches. Some, like the bent-over woman’s condition, are more visible than others. As you look out on your congregation, what do you see? The weight of many years of suffering on one person’s face, the crushing hurt of a new and painful reality in another’s eyes: divorce; the loss of a loved one; financial worries; poor health; a child who has run away, physically or emotionally.
Perhaps there are people in your church who know the pain and oppression of being marginalized and alone in the greater community, if not within the church itself. Do we notice them, the way Jesus noticed the bent-over woman? Is the suffering of some people easier to avoid, or to miss entirely?
Just as important is our response. Our hearts may be touched by the suffering of another, but there is still another step, to compassion, and to action in response to that suffering. What kinds of healing might we offer to those we may or may not notice in our places of worship?
Hindering liberation for the sake of “tradition”?
Then there is the question of self-examination: regrettably, in many ways the church itself may lay burdens on the people; our disabilities ministries is one response to a long history of not making our buildings, services, and ministries accessible to all of God’s children, regardless of physical and mental limitations. For example, how many of our chancels are accessible for preachers and worship leaders who may have mobility issues? (The ministry of the UCC Cornerstone Fund in helping churches with loans to make these changes possible is a powerful and practical response to this call for justice.)
Is there a word of judgment for us in this reading from the Gospel of Luke? In what ways do we hinder liberation and healing for the sake of rules and tradition, especially when “tradition” is misunderstood as simply “the way we’ve always done things”? When have we experienced healing and/or liberation from our own burdens? Have we, like the bent-over woman, had sense enough to immediately praise God? How have we experienced grace as coming to us, even when we may not have had the strength or the confidence to ask for it, let alone pursue it?
Jesus and women
A second thread to follow is one that leads to reflection on Jesus’ ministry with women. We see the quiet humility of a woman who has apparently come to the synagogue to pray, asking nothing for herself, and, according to Sharon Ringe, we also see the restoration to the community that Jesus offers in his healing, expressed by the unusual address (the only time it’s used in the Gospels), “daughter of Abraham.” Perhaps the condition of the woman is a metaphor for the experience of so many women bearing heavy burdens in every culture and time, whether they are hauling water for miles, caring for sick children without needed resources, enduring physical abuse, or treated unjustly in the workplace.
Jesus repeatedly ignores rules and customs that reinforce such marginalization and injustice, and this story embodies his attitude toward all women, not just one “victim” of “a spirit of weakness.” If Jesus frees her with from the illness that kept her captive, as Ringe says, aren’t we called to free women and girls today from their captivity and burdens, not just to study the oppression of women or to acknowledge it as an unfortunate sociological phenomenon, but to deal with its causes (Luke, Westminster Bible Companion)? A sermon on this text might lift up the witness of the United Church of Christ and many other people of faith who are fighting the good fight against human trafficking, which, tragically, touches most often on the lives of women and young girls.
Timing is everything
And then there is the question of timing. This healing by Jesus was a problem because of when it happened, not to whom or by whom or how it was accomplished. Come back tomorrow, the synagogue leader says, when it’s permissible and proper for healings to be performed. Wait a little longer. The tension here, according to Richard Swanson’s intriguing commentary, is between two faithful Jewish men who are struggling with what it means to be faithful. The religious leader as Swanson portrays him is not mean-spirited but trying to press his own case for obedient faithfulness. So is Jesus, of course, but both men believe they are keeping Sabbath (Provoking the Gospel of Luke).
I don’t know about you, but I’ve spent most of my life thinking of the Pharisees and the Sadducees and the synagogue leaders back in Jesus’ day as uptight, judgmental, close-minded, harsh, moralistic, religious fanatics. (By the way, recent polls show that many young people, alas, see people who claim to be Christians the same way.) Jesus was the outsider, sort of a first-century Clint Eastwood, who would come into town and stir things up by trying to set them right, because obviously the religious types had it all wrong. It was so clear, so simple: religious leaders were the bad guys, and Jesus was the good guy…actually, the best guy of all.
A conversation within a community
However, we can approach these stories about Jesus’ conflicts with the religious leaders of his day from a different perspective. What if the arguments that they had — over the Sabbath (that was a big one, and it’s at the heart of this story), or over which people are the proper ones to eat with, or who counts as your neighbor, or whether a person can get divorced and remarry — what if we saw those conflicts as conversations within a community, among people who shared common sacred ground — a long and holy history with a God who was always, always faithful to them — even though these people called Israel didn’t agree on everything and every way to be faithful.
That’s the thing: the religious leaders, bless their hearts, were trying in their own way to be faithful. Sure, maybe things got out of hand sometimes with thinking that some folks were somehow purer or more worthy than others, or that the way to please God was through religious observance — worship services, impressive buildings, long prayers and fasting, focusing a lot of attention on the law, right down to every technical detail — even though God often told them that all of that wasn’t at the heart of the matter; what mattered most and matters even now to God is what’s in our hearts, and how we treat one another, and especially how we treat those in our midst (whether we notice them or not) who are most vulnerable: as the Bible says, “the poor, the lame, the widow and the orphan, the stranger in your midst.”
But still, these religious leaders were folks who got up in the morning thinking about God and how they might serve God better. They didn’t always get it right, but they were sincerely trying. If we think about that for a minute, don’t they begin to sound familiar? Don’t they sound something like us?
The time for grace is now
The story really portrays Jesus as keeping the Sabbath because he sees it differently, and because he has a different sense of timing. The time for God’s grace and healing is now, not some point “still to be determined” in the future. This is a matter of some urgency. Didn’t Jesus just spend much of the previous chapter speaking about “the hour” and about the ability to see what is really important?
This woman’s ailment may not threaten her life, but her life is so precious that each day is a gift and an opportunity to praise God. According to Barbara Reid, “When the purpose of Sabbath rest is to be free to praise God, Jesus deems it necessary to free a bound woman so as to do precisely that.” What matters to Reid in this text is Jesus’ timing, because “Jesus is urgent that now is the time of salvation” (The Lectionary Commentary: The Gospels). So it’s not unreasonable to suggest, as Sharon Ringe does, that the point of all this is not “whether,” but “how” to keep Sabbath (Luke, Westminster Bible Companion).
This problem, of course, seems to be an ongoing one, Charles Cousar writes, for the religious elites and all who failed to “perceive the clear signs of God’s rule” or to “realize that the present was a time of crisis, a time for repentance and changed lives” (Texts for Preaching Year C). And this brings us to our own time and our own questions and our own need for healing. We read and preach this text in a world that doesn’t know the meaning of Sabbath or grasp the importance of timing.
“A glimpse of God’s dominion”
Richard Swanson contrasts our modern approach to Sunday (our Sabbath day) and the profound regard that the people of Jesus’ time would have had for the day of rest: “This scene comes out of a world that remembered that Sabbath is different. Sabbath is not just a day of rest. It is a day of promise….Sabbath is welcomed into the house as a queen would be welcomed. Sabbath provides a foretaste of the culmination of all things, a glimpse of God’s dominion, a little slice of the messianic age dropped into the midst of regular time. Sabbath offers a remembrance of God’s promise of peace and freedom for all of creation. It is a good thing, a gift from God….Sabbath had become a symbol of the resistance God’s people offered to tyrants of every sort and every time…Sabbath is a day that lifts people’s eyes to God’s promise in the midst of the most unpromising circumstances” (Provoking the Gospel of Luke).
What are “tyrants” in our lives that demand our attention, our energy, our spirits? What would it require in our lives to escape such oppression, even for just one day a week? Many of us actually feel anxiety if our time and attention is not fully taken up in an activity or in some type of electronic media. What would it require for our souls to be at rest in God, here, on earth?
Just begin with Sunday
We are fortunate in many ways in our culture, but we are burdened, too. For example, many children in our society are as pressed down as the bent-over woman with schedules that leave them no time to play or to just “be” with their families, friends, and nature itself. We adults are the same way, and our health and the well-being of our families, our churches, and our communities are affected.
Without laying on more guilt, the pastorally sensitive preacher may challenge or at least invite a congregation to begin with Sunday, just to begin with Sunday, as a time of peace and rest, but as even more, as a time to immerse ourselves in the promises of God, the promises that sustain us each day, during “regular” time, too. As the bent-over woman’s gaze was “lifted up” to God in praise, perhaps our perspective, too, will be raised and will lead us to new and deeper faithfulness and praise.
Sample sermon on Luke 13:10-17:
I remember when I was a little girl, my entire spiritual life revolved around worrying about whether or not I would go to heaven after I died. Even though I wasn’t too sure what heaven was like, I was scared to death of going to hell and wanted to avoid it at all costs. Fortunately, I learned that there were ways that I could arrange this. If I could obey all of the rules – okay, most of the rules – and do a lot of extra devotional things like going to confession, Mass and communion on nine First Fridays of the month in a row, I would go straight to heaven. This was easier said than done, and, to be honest, I was never able to accomplish it.
At this point, to me, salvation and the kingdom of God meant my own personal experience of heaven. I hadn’t yet come to understand that we are in this together. I hadn’t yet come to understand that there was more to the kingdom – the reign – of God than my own personal salvation after my own personal death. I had not yet looked up to see the people out there, the people around me who were suffering.
Many years later, I went to seminary, and one day in class, during my first semester, our teacher urged us to pray that we would, in the words of Henri Nouwen, “love Jesus and love the way Jesus loved.” It was one of those moments when everything around me seemed to stop. This teacher, and Henri Nouwen, had touched on the heart of things:
“To love Jesus, and to love the way Jesus loved.”
Now Jesus was teaching in a synagogue on the Sabbath. He looked up and saw a woman who was bent over – bent over for the last eighteen years….can you imagine what her life must have been like? Her world was defined by the small piece of ground around her toes, or what she could look at “on a slant,” as one writer, Sharon Ringe, has described it. Just as people who live orderly, proper lives and never notice the suffering around them, just like my relationship with God was once defined by rules and technicalities, the bent-over woman was captive, bound by her ailment. She could not move freely, meet another person face-to-face, or look up to see the salvation – the healing – that was coming to her in the person of Jesus Christ.
Jesus was teaching, he noticed the woman, and he spoke words of healing to her: “Woman, you are set free from your ailment.” And then he touched her. Immediately she stood up straight and began praising God. Despite the protests of the synagogue leader, Jesus had broken the rules and put human welfare over religious obligation. He then went back to what he had been doing – teaching – and, in the very next verses, he began with the question, “What is the reign of God like?” In his act of healing, Jesus had shown the people what the reign of God was like, and then he went on to talk about it, too. Not just empty words, but action, too.
Of course, however good Jesus’ words and actions are, there is that little question of timing. This healing was a problem to the Pharisees – the ones who, like me, tried so hard to be faithful by paying lots of attention to the rules. It was a problem because of when it happened, not to whom or by whom or how it was accomplished. Come back tomorrow, the synagogue leader says, when it’s alright for healings to be performed. Wait a little longer.
You can feel the tension here between these two faithful Jewish men who are both struggling with what it means to be faithful. The religious leader isn’t mean-spirited; he’s trying to press his case for obedient faithfulness. And so is Jesus. They both want to observe the Sabbath, but they don’t agree about how to keep it. Jesus says the time for salvation isn’t tomorrow; it’s right now, no matter what day it is. In fact, maybe Sabbath is the perfect time for healing!
If we are called to love Jesus and to love the way Jesus loved, it’s clear then that this story gives us a model of what it means to be the church – the Body of Christ – not just on Sunday but every day. Jesus is the model for all of us as ministers, not just the preacher in the pulpit, but all of us. Every single one of us, in our daily lives, has the occasion to encounter the bent-over woman. Let me describe her:
She is a mother whose child was sick all night. Many years ago, when I was a young mother, I went to the hospital to visit a friend. The route to her room took me through the basement, where the long halls were lined with chairs. In the chairs sat mothers, dozens of them, each with a baby or small child, and most of the little children were crying. I recognized the sound of their cry, because mothers come to know a cry of pain from ordinary fussiness. Parents here remember that there is an insistent, piercing quality to the cry of a child who has an earache. As I walked down that long hallway, it was obvious that these mothers had a long wait for free medical care. Their babies could have been crying all night. It dawned on me that my children did not have to wait in long hallways for relief from their pain, for their illnesses to be healed. With medical insurance, their daddy and I could call even in the middle of the night and arrange for medication. The bent-over woman is there, in hospital waiting rooms, longing for healing in the reign of God.
The bent-over woman is an African American family trying to sell their house in a society marred by racism. Friends of mine who work in the real estate industry recently told me about a meeting their company had held about diversity and fair housing. In this country, we are very proud of the progress we have made on the issue of race. After all, we’ve passed laws that are supposed to eliminate racist practices, for example, in the buying and selling of homes. But laws cannot change the human heart, and laws cannot end prejudice. One of the women at this meeting, a real estate agent, said that a black family had asked her whether they should take down their family pictures so that potential buyers would not know their race, and their house would sell more easily. My friend said that everyone who listened to this story sat there, very still. It was a moment of painful discouragement, a moment of awful realization of how far we still have to go. The bent-over woman is there, in our cities and our neighborhoods, longing for justice in the reign of God.
The bent-over woman is a young teenager struggling with the knowledge that he is somehow different. Many of us in the Cleveland community remember a fourteen-year-old boy named Robbie who told his mother and father that he was gay, and received their assurance that they loved him unconditionally. But at school, Robbie agonized as only teenagers can every time that his peers taunted him mercilessly. At church, he learned that he was disordered and sinful. In the end, the love of his parents was not enough to keep Robbie from losing heart, and one terrible day, he took his own life. Robbie isn’t with us any more, but there are many more young people out there, just like him. The bent-over woman is there, alone in the night, longing for acceptance in the reign of God.
These are some of the ways people are bent over and pressed down. But they’re not the only ones. There are people who are weighed down and bent over by loneliness, grief, worry, anxiety, and doubt. People who are confused by a world that preaches a word of its own, a false word that often leads them – leads us – astray from God’s plan and God’s goodness and God’s will for our lives. There are people whose financial difficulties or mental illness or physical ailments or business troubles feel like burdens that bend them over and weigh them down. The bent-over woman doesn’t necessarily ask for healing – she didn’t in the story. She just appeared, out of the shadows where pressed-down people so often live, and Jesus noticed her, and reached out.
Friends, we’re not here each Sunday because we simply enjoy one another’s company. We are not here because we like to sing or see our friends or just because we feel we should be in church, or even because someone is pressuring or influencing us to be here. No, I don’t believe that. I believe that we are here this morning because somewhere in the deepest part of our spirit is a hunger for the reign of God. I believe that we long for the healing, and the justice, and the love and acceptance, and the peace that is the reign of God. We are here because we’ve come to know that we can’t fix this world on our own, or even provide for ourselves on our own, and that our only real choice is to turn to God and one another for what we need and long for.
Sometimes it’s hard to define what we mean by the reign of God, isn’t it? The best description I ever heard of the kingdom of God was given by a theologian named Hans Kung, who says that the reign of God is “God’s creation healed.”
God’s creation – healed.
Healed of the wound of poverty that makes only some of us have to wait long hours for what we need, for the needs of our sick children in that hospital corridor, while our nation loses interest in talking about health care reform as if it were a purely political issue rather than a question of justice. Lord, have mercy on us.
Healed of the wound of racism – long after we think we have “fixed” things by abolishing slavery or passing Civil Rights Laws or creating Fair Housing ordinances – aren’t we proud of ourselves? – when a family has to hide pictures of their loved ones in order to make an ordinary business transaction. Lord, have mercy on us.
Healed of the wound of prejudice that judges and even ridicules gay and lesbian, bisexual and transgender people for being different, the wound of misunderstanding and misinformation that denies that we are all God’s children and part of the beautiful diversity of God’s creation, healed of a prejudice that has our children and many of our adults in desperation taking their own lives. And healed of the wound of division that this issue has brought to our life in the church. Lord God, have mercy on us.
It is God who brings the reign of God in God’s own time. Sure, today we proclaim it, we witness to its beginning in Jesus Christ and to its coming fullness. But we’re called to do more than to proclaim that word, we are called to enflesh it, to become a word of hope for all those who appear before us, bearing burdens, pressed down. Jesus is calling you this day to engage yourself in the great dream of freeing all of God’s children, all of the daughters of Abraham and the sons of Sarah from everything that holds them in bondage. We’re invited to see our lives, our world, as they can be, for God has given us, according to the prophet Jeremiah, “a future, and a hope.” As Dr. Martin Luther King once said, “Let us rededicate ourselves to the long and bitter – but beautiful – struggle for a new world. This is the calling of the children of God.”
In a way, we’re standing in an in-between kind of time – Jesus has already begun the kingdom of God, but it’s not yet here in its fullness. Some days, it feels a lot easier to notice the not-yet instead of the already, the not-yet of a broken world full of dehumanizing realities. But we won’t let that stop us, will we? We’ll raise up our heads and see that our redemption draws near, that what’s still to come, surely coming, is a dream of peace and justice and healing and mercy, and we know that we can count on that, because God has promised us that, and God’s promises are true.
In the meantime, we’ll help each other to rise up, like the bent-over woman in today’s Gospel story, and give thanks and praise to the One who formed us in love and has called us to live in that love, and in justice, and in peace. Amen.
The Rev. Kathryn M. Matthews retired in July after serving as dean of Amistad Chapel at the national offices of the United Church of Christ in Cleveland, Ohio.
You’re invited to share your reflections on this text in the comments below the post on our Facebook page.
A Bible study version of this reflection is at Weekly Seeds.
For further reflection:
Ansel Adams, 20th century
“Sometimes I arrive just when God’s ready to have somone click the shutter.”
Alexandra Elle, 21st century
“The Sun will rise and set regardless. What we choose to do with the light while it’s here is up to us. Journey wisely.”
Charles M. Blow, 21st century
“There is no wrong time to do the right thing.”
Martin Luther King Jr., Why We Can’t Wait, 20th century
“The words ‘bad timing’ came to be ghosts haunting our every move in Birmingham. Yet people who used this argument were ignorant of the background of our planning…they did not realize that it was ridiculous to speak of timing when the clock of history showed that the Negro had already suffered one hundred years of delay.”
Alice Walker, 21st century
“Anybody can observe the Sabbath, but making it holy surely takes the rest of the week.”
Anita Diamant, 21st century
“The Sabbath is a weekly cathedral raised up in my dining room, in my family, in my heart.”
Marva Dawn, 21st century
“Sabbath ceasing [means] to cease not only from work itself, but also from the need to accomplish and be productive, from the worry and tension that accompany our modern criterion of efficiency, from our efforts to be in control of our lives as if we were God, from our possessiveness and our enculturation, and finally, from the humdrum and meaninglessness that result when life is pursued without the Lord at the center of it all.”
Barbara Brown Taylor, 21st century
“The great Swiss theologian Karl Barth wrote, “A being is free only when it can determine and limit its activity.” By that definition, I have a hard time counting many free beings among my acquaintance. I know people who can do five things at once who are incapable of doing nothing….Since I have been one of these people, I know that saying no is a more difficult spiritual practice than tithing, praying on a cold stone floor, or visiting a prisoner on death row.”
Henry Ward Beecher, 19th century
“A world without a Sabbath would be like a man without a smile, like summer without flowers, and like a homestead without a garden. It is the most joyous day of the week.”
Now the word of the Lord came to me saying,
“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,
and before you were born I consecrated you;
I appointed you a prophet to the nations.”
Then I said, “Ah, Lord God! Truly I do not know how to speak,
for I am only a boy.”
But the Lord said to me,
“Do not say, ‘I am only a boy’;
for you shall go to all to whom I send you,
and you shall speak whatever I command you.
Do not be afraid of them,
for I am with you to deliver you, says the Lord.”
Then the Lord put out his hand and touched my mouth;
and the Lord said to me,
“Now I have put my words in your mouth.
See, today I appoint you over nations and over kingdoms,
to pluck up and to pull down,
to destroy and to overthrow,
to build and to plant.”
In you, O God, I take refuge;
let me never be put to shame.
In your righteousness deliver me
and rescue me;
incline your ear to me and save me.
Be to me a rock of refuge,
a strong fortress, to save me,
for you are my rock and my fortress.
Rescue me, O my God,
from the hand of the wicked,
from the grasp of the unjust and cruel.
For you, O God, are my hope,
my trust, O God, from my youth.
Upon you I have leaned from my birth;
it was you who took me from my mother’s womb.
My praise is continually of you.
If you remove the yoke from among you,
the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil,
if you offer your food to the hungry
and satisfy the needs of the afflicted,
then your light shall rise in the darkness
and your gloom be like the noonday.
The Lord will guide you continually,
and satisfy your needs in parched places,
and make your bones strong;
and you shall be like a watered garden,
like a spring of water,
whose waters never fail.
Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt;
you shall raise up the foundations of many generations;
you shall be called the repairer of the breach,
the restorer of streets to live in.
If you refrain from trampling the sabbath,
from pursuing your own interests on my holy day;
if you call the sabbath a delight
and the holy day of the Lord honorable;
if you honor it, not going your own ways,
serving your own interests, or pursuing your own affairs;
then you shall take delight in the Lord,
and I will make you ride upon the heights of the earth;
I will feed you with the heritage of your ancestor Jacob,
for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.
Bless God, O my soul,
and all that is within me,
bless God’s holy name.
Bless God, O my soul,
and do not forget all God’s benefits
who forgives all your iniquity,
who heals all your diseases,
who redeems your life from the Pit,
who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy,
who satisfies you with good as long as you live
so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.
God works vindication and justice
for all who are oppressed.
God made known God’s ways to Moses,
and God’s acts to the people of Israel.
God is merciful and gracious,
slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
You have not come to something that can be touched, a blazing fire, and darkness, and gloom, and a tempest, and the sound of a trumpet, and a voice whose words made the hearers beg that not another word be spoken to them. (For they could not endure the order that was given, “If even an animal touches the mountain, it shall be stoned to death.” Indeed, so terrifying was the sight that Moses said, “I tremble with fear.”) But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.
See that you do not refuse the one who is speaking; for if they did not escape when they refused the one who warned them on earth, how much less will we escape if we reject the one who warns from heaven! At that time his voice shook the earth; but now he has promised, “Yet once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heaven.” This phrase “Yet once more” indicates the removal of what is shaken—that is, created things—so that what cannot be shaken may remain. Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us give thanks, by which we offer to God an acceptable worship with reverence and awe; for indeed our God is a consuming fire.
Now he was teaching in one of the synagogues on the sabbath. And just then there appeared a woman with a spirit that had crippled her for eighteen years. She was bent over and was quite unable to stand up straight. When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said, “Woman, you are set free from your ailment.” When he laid his hands on her, immediately she stood up straight and began praising God. But the leader of the synagogue, indignant because Jesus had cured on the sabbath, kept saying to the crowd, “There are six days on which work ought to be done; come on those days and be cured, and not on the sabbath day.” But the Lord answered him and said, “You hypocrites! Does not each of you on the sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the manger, and lead it away to give it water? And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen long years, be set free from this bondage on the sabbath day?” When he said this, all his opponents were put to shame; and the entire crowd was rejoicing at all the wonderful things that he was doing.
Notes on the Lectionary and Liturgical Colors
by the Rev. Susan Blain, Curator for Worship and Liturgical Arts (mailto:email@example.com)
Faith Formation Ministry, Local Church Ministries, United Church of Christ
(Essay based on an article by Laurence Hull Stookey: “Putting Liturgical Colors in their Place” in Calendar: Christ’s Time for the Church ©1996 Abingdon Press.)
The use of colors to differentiate liturgical seasons is a custom in use among some Western churches for hundreds of years. Although the custom of using colors is an ancient one, there has not always been agreement on what the colors should be. The Council of Trent in 1570, a Roman Catholic response to the Reformation, codified the colors for the Roman Catholic Church. When we talk about “traditional” colors today, we usually are referring to that codification. There were four basic colors in that codification: purple (penitence), red (Spirit or Martyrs memorials), green (long season after Pentecost) and white (festivals). Other colors, or no color at all, were acceptable variants in some regions.
The Reformation of course was a watershed for Christian ritual practice. Anglican and Lutheran churches often used some form of liturgical colors; however, the Reformed tradition of churches, where the UCC falls, for the most part did away with the custom of using colors, opting for much more simplicity. During the ecumenical liturgical movement of the mid-20th Century, Protestant churches began to look back at some of the ritual and colorful practices of the past with an eye toward reclaiming them to help give expression to feeling, tone, and imagery underlying the lectionary stories.
Before the Reformation’s iconoclasm, and Trent’s code, practices varied from place to place, often depending on what was available. Indeed, in some places the custom was to organize vestments into practical categories of “best,” “second best,” and “everyday” — not depending on the color at all. For Christmas and Easter the “best” vestments were used, no matter the color! Other, less prominent feasts or Sundays got “second best” or “everyday.”