Rosie wrote about Evensong in this month’s magazine. I recall going to Evensong as a child. The candles were put out after the prayers and before the sermon. I still think of that when I smell freshly extinguished candles. The first time my elder brother saw that happen he rushed home and said, “It was so hot in church, they had to put the candles out!” Why not make a decision now to try out Evening Prayer next Sunday? We keep the candles on throughout the service now.
Once a month on Sunday evenings in St Ives’ Church, Leadgate, there was a healing service. This included the laying on of hands. The Vicar, The Revd Bill Portsmouth, led the service. In 1967 the BBC changed the face of the Church of England. In many churches Evensong had until then been the main service. After the Forsyte Saga, Evensong was to diminish in importance. Sunday night TV was to keep churchgoers at home.
Dr Johnson said that when two Englishmen meet, their first talk is of the weather. However the travel writer Bill Bryson says that English weather is not fascinating. Jeremy Paxman disagrees. (Now there’s a surprise.) He says that the one of the few things you can say about England is that it has a lot of weather. In a fascinating book about the English, Kate Fox says that when we say, “Nice day, isn’t it? Ooh isn’t it cold? Still raining eh?” These are ritual greetings, conversation–starters or default fillers.
My first Vicar Bill Portsmouth disagreed with all of them. He said that the commonest subject of conversation in England is bad health. He said that people seem to take a perverse pleasure in reporting their own and other people’s illnesses to a most detailed degree. He wrote of, “a morbid resignation in the way someone describes his sufferings as being, “hereditary” and how “Uncle Charles had it all his life.” “Many a sick person’s recovery has been retarded because some well-meaning visitor has spent an hour talking about illness. The one topic which ought never to be permitted in the sick room is sickness itself.”
Do you know the definition of a bore? It’s when you ask someone how they are and they tell you. You know the sort of thing. The person who gives more information than you need to know about their last bowel movement!
Glenn Hoddle was sacked as the England Football manager when he suggested that physical illness was God’s punishment for sin. It is simply not possible to reconcile a God of love with that. Such views are a mismatch with everything in the Gospels. In the words of Michael Ramsey, 'God is Christlike, and in him is no un-Christlikeness at all.'
Sin separates us from the love of God and the love of those around us, which is why we begin services with confession for sins and absolution.
I mentioned healing services, but every act of worship is about healing, that is healing in terms of our spiritual wellbeing. The peace of God which passes all understanding has a more positive meaning than peace as distinct from war. It means wholeness. Bill Portsmouth said that health should really be “whole-th”. We confess our sins and turn to God. By seeking to change our lives we have the opportunity of overcoming separation from God and being healed, that is being made whole. The Gospel is all about the possibility of being made whole, of being healed in this way.
Put yourself in the position of the woman in the Gospel reading. Imagine what life has been like for her. She has had an issue of blood for twelve years. She has suffered. Oh, how she has suffered for twelve long years. It is a large chunk of time. In anyone’s life you don’t get too many periods of twelve years. She is ritually unclean according to Jewish law, so she must stay away from people as she contaminates anyone whom she touches. Jesus is famous. The woman has heard that Jesus has the power of healing. She comes to Jesus in faith. She creeps up behind Jesus and touches the fringe of his cloak. Jesus feels the touch. He immediately knows what has happened. He is not angry. He smiles at the woman and tells her, “Take heart, daughter; your faith has made you well.” Instantaneously the woman was made well.
A God of love cannot do the impossible. That would be to reduce to nothing the world which God has created. There is no point praying for the heat of summer in the middle of winter. That would go against the laws of nature. It is possible to be 'whole' even while suffering from illness. We all come across people who are totally at peace, whilst suffering the most overwhelming physical troubles. God is beside us as we suffer. He walks with us and shares in our pain and unhappiness. That is how we are truly healed - made whole - by God’s grace shown to us in Jesus.
To finish here’s a prayer by BiPortsmouth:
Lord, yesterday is gone, tomorrow is not yet come. This is today and you are in it, for you are the “I am” and you are true to yourself, yesterday, today and tomorrow. What you have been, you will be. What you will be, you are. I do not wait until tomorrow to know your saving health.
If my body aches, or breathing is hard, or nerves are strained, I do not need to wait and wonder if you will come to help me for you have said, “Now is the day of salvation.” So now I lean on that promise; now I surrender to you; now I accept your salvation
Your promises are timeless and how should I be excluded from them. Your Word is not an empty thing. It will come to pass; I leave all to you and will do all I can to help. Here I am.. I am yours. You are with me and I am at peace. Amen.