Sunday 21st August

Isaiah ch.58: verses 9b -14           St. Luke ch.13: verses 10-17

Both our Bible Readings today speak of the Jewish sabbath, a day of rest and worship set apart by God for his covenant people.  In the lovely chapter 58 from the prophet we call Third Isaiah, the prophet speaks to a Jewish community who had returned from years of exile in Babylon. They returned to a devastated and neglected land which demanded such hard work from the people that many neglected Sabbath worship in the synagogue.

By the time of Jesus the synagogue was the main powerhouse of provincial Judaism, but worship and sabbath observance were fenced in by countless restrictions, so that when Jesus of Nazareth, in the middle of his teaching, healed a woman who was bent double, it was frowned upon by the ruler of the synagogue as an improper use of the Sabbath.

Jesus rejected the criticisms which would have denied to the woman a right which animals enjoyed, and whilst his touch broke through years of pain, shame and isolation, he also called the woman a ‘Daughter of Abraham’, thus establishing her rightful place within God’s covenanted people. No wonder the ordinary members of that congregation in the synagogue rejoiced at this sign of God’s kingdom being on its way. If this woman could now look up in hope, so could they!

Suppose we transpose this story into our situation this morning: if we are able, we are here on our special day, Sunday, the Day of Resurrection, and we are in church, a building dedicated to the worship of God, and we believe Jesus is here. We, like the woman, might be burdened with pain, with sorrow, with anxieties or loneliness, and we are here to be lifted up in wholeness and in hope-to be made whole, and to lift up others who are bowed down.

Luke’s story is followed by 2 well-known short parables-the mustard seed and the leaven, or yeast -both speak of the small and insignificant beginning of God’s reign as it must have appeared in our Lord’s ministry, yet followed by its amazing growth and spread. We might say that when one bent double woman, or man, stands tall, it is like the leaven in the bread, and causes another and another to stand tall until all bent-over women and men are standing up, eyes raised, looking in hope for the coming of God’s reign.

The church is here to be a sign of that hope, and the world is waiting to see the church doing what it preaches-lifting up, healing, reconciling-being the body of Christ in the world, and God will heal and strengthen us for that task. May it be so.   Amen

Revd Jean Hughes