Healing on the Sabbath; by whose authority?
As a priest serving a church whose tradition for Sunday worship is the Lord's Supper, Eucharist, or Holy Communion, I have spent decades giving the Bread and Wine, the Body and Blood of Christ to people at the Communion rail. Most sacramental-based churches keep a tradition of welcoming people to the rail, inviting them to receive the bread with crossed palms and then as the common cup passes, folks are welcomed to either intinct their bread or, having eaten the bread, sip from the cup.
That activity means that communion begins with an eye-to-eye and hand-to-hand contact. It means that each person I give communion to, I see their hands. I have seen so many hands in my life as a priest. There are hands that are clean, and there are hands that are dirty. There are children's hands covered in glitter glue, brilliant with colored marker stains, that have just come from Sunday School. There are hands that still carry the soil or stains from gardens, from workplaces, from kitchens. There are hands that are twisted by arthritis, and hands that bear the scars of long lives of interesting stories and adventures. There are hands so young and tender that you wonder at God's incredible skill, to make fingernails so very small and perfect. There are hands that are missing bits and pieces, joints or whole fingers. Some are marked by accidents, others by birth "defect."
Every hand tells a story, and is a testament to the journey the person has made to arrive at this rail at this time to join with their community of faith in a meal of thanksgiving, unity and praise to God.
That is why I am always so moved by Jesus' healing of the man with the withered hand, not so much that he makes something less then perfect whole again; but that he is willing to connect to a person in such an intimate way while confronting some of the deepest and darkest disconnects we express as human beings. You see, in healing the man he breaks the law of the Sabbath to "do no work" on the day of rest. Yet, he reminds us, even the most ancient scholars allow that if you are to do a good deed for the benefit of another then that is allowable. Make someone whole, that is the greater calling, than to refrain from a controversial act.
This Gospel has SO much to offer us, and this little meditation is just scratching the surface...but as I sit here this morning, I find myself letting my heart float back over the decades of service at God's holy table, giving thanks that even for a few brief seconds each Sunday I get the chance to see and share in people's hands the testimony of their lives as we share Communion in the light of God's love and in the presence of the Son, Jesus.