Lent 2020: Introduction

It is impossible to read the gospel accounts without being struck by the number of healing stories. Everywhere he goes, Jesus heals; and healing is central to his self-professed ministry. “Tell John,” he says, “that the blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor.” (Matthew 1:4-5). Later, Jesus commissions his disciples to engage in this same ministry—but what is it?

Although gospel healing is often described in physical terms, it is much more than physical. The Greek word for ‘demonic’ means ‘tearing apart,’ and Jesus challenges the demonic forces which tear apart bodies, minds and spirits; people and communities; people and the wider creation; and people and God. Whether it’s physical or mental illness, abusive relationships, racism, sexism, violence, shame or greed, Jesus frees people from these and everything else which fractures people and relationships.

This is why he is called the ‘Saviour’: he saves us. The Greek word sozo means to save, heal, or bring wholeness, and our Saviour throws out the demonic and makes us whole. He heals fractured persons, and he brings them into communion with God and one another.

Of course, being made whole does not mean pretending that our hurts never happened, or that our wounds do not exist. It does not mean perfection. Instead, as Frank Ostaseski writes, “It means no part left out.” It means including, accepting and connecting all parts of ourselves in Christ, who unites all things. Just as Jesus was scarred after his death and resurrection, so, too, with our own healing.

Like Jesus, we live in interesting times. Many of us are sick or suffering; many of us are anxious and afraid; around us, the earth groans. We are no longer able to pretend that Western medicine and Western science will fix everything which ails us. Many of us are also increasingly aware that our health is bound up in much more than individual bodies: it cannot be separated from mental, emotional and spiritual health, our relationships and networks, the politics which govern us, the places we live, the work we do, the air we breathe, the food we eat, and the soil and water which grow it—and many of these things are damaged or fractured.

Even so, we can be reluctant to ask God for healing. Perhaps we doubt that God has real sovereignty, perhaps we rightly fear the idolatrous claim that, if we pray earnestly enough, God will heal us exactly as we ask, or perhaps we simply do not know how to pray.

This Lenten series, then, is a set of signposts. It’s packed with stories of healing which brought people closer to wholeness. Some are written by members of Sanctuary; some, by other followers of Jesus; and some by people who would not describe themselves as followers of Jesus at all. But just as the Spirit hovers over all creation, and just as a Samaritan shows us how to be a neighbour, so too do we look for the Christ-shaped work of the Holy Spirit well beyond the boundaries of the church.

Each day of Lent we will upload a Bible reading, a story, and a set of reflective questions. You can use these resources as you wish, but my hope is that, if you set aside some time regularly, perhaps with a journal, and sit in the presence of God with the stories and questions, this series will take you on a healing journey of your own.

When Jesus encountered a man who had been paralysed for many years, he asked, “Do you want to be made whole?” (John 5:1-9). It might have been easier for that man to stay the way he was: diminished, dependent, without responsibilities, and limited in his participation in the life going on around him. But something in him responded to the invitation: life beckoned, and he said, “Yes!”

Like this man, with fear and trepidation, let us also answer Jesus with a deep, if trembling, “Yes!” Let us allow him to take us further on the journey which heals us of all that harms us, as he shapes us ever more deeply into his healing, salvific image. Ω

> Check back here tomorrow, and every day of Lent, for a Bible reading, a story, and some reflective questions to spur you on your healing journey.

#Lent2020 © Sanctuary, 2020.


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