Welcome + Worship + Witness

The Rector: Skin Hunger

The Seventh Sunday after Trinity
26 July 2020
10.30 Morning Service

Revd Nicholas Mercer

The sensation of touch is one of the five senses which help us navigate the world around us

It is not surprising therefore that there has been much focus on touch in the recent lockdown

The news was full of stories about why we crave touch and how we have struggled without it

It manifested itself in all sorts of different ways

Families spoke of their desire to touch those members who were absent

Grandparents were desperate to hug their grandchildren

And children and grandchildren longed to do so in return

Friends yearned to embrace each other

The clergy were also denied the right to touch

But worst of all was the inability of anyone, except hospital staff, to touch those who lay dying in hospital

This absence of touch was described by one commentator as “skin hunger” and affected us all

I was struck this morning by the two healing miracles in Matthew Gospel

Although they are both healing miracles they are radically different when it comes to  touch

In the case of the first miracle and the healing of the leper, the Gospel tells us that Jesus

stretched out his hand and touched him”

As soon as he did so

his leprosy was immediately cleansed”. 

But when it came to the Centurion’s Son, the exact opposite happened

Although Jesus expresses his desire to come and cure his son

The centurion answered,

“Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof; but only speak the word, and my servant will be healed.

The Centurion’s Son was healed without Christ touching him at all

And I was rather intrigued by the stark contrast between the two stories

It is fair to say that the overwhelming majority of the healing miracles in involve Jesus’s touch

The leper we heard about this morning is one such example but there are numerous others

The twelve year old girl in Capernaum

The deaf man in Decapolis

The blind men in Jerusalem and Jericho

Peter’s Mother in-law  are just a few of the miracles which occur when Jesus’s touches the afflicted

However, this is far from being the complete picture

But by stark contrast, there are also those who are healed by Jesus without any touch at all

This obviously included the Centurion’s son

But also the Canaanite woman’s daughter in Matthews Gospel (8: 21-28)

As well as the ten lepers in Luke (17: 11-19)

Although Jesus does not touch any of them, they too are healed

But there is a third category of those who are not touched directly but indirectly instead

The best known of these stories is the women with internal bleedings which we hear about in Luke’s Gospel

Rather than being touched by Jesus, she could only touch the fringe of his robe

As the Gospel says

She came up behind him and touched the fringe of his garment, and immediately her discharge of blood ceased”

But whilst researching this issue, I was also very taken with the story of the boy who was raised in Luke’s Gospel

For all intents and purposes, the boy appeared to be dead

However, when Jesus approached him, rather than touch the boy, he simply touched his bed instead

As the Gospel says

 “And he came and touched the bier…And [he] said, Young man, [I say unto thee], Arise”.

It appears that those who are touched by Jesus, indirectly, are also recipients of his healing power

Whilst this is not surprising, I think the variations with regard to touch are significant for us all in this time of pandemic

In the case of the clergy, as I mentioned in my introduction, there are very strict restrictions on touch at the present time

Our COVID-19 guidance on pastoral support states:

“Laying on of hands should be avoided

It is preferable not to anoint with oil 

The clergy must maintain physical distance and not touch a dying person”

This is very harsh but also, inadvertently, biblical at the same time

If Christ can minister to the sick and dying without touch then so can we

If Christ can simply touch the bed of the dying boy then so can we acting, vicariously, on his behalf

The same applies to the administration of the sacrament

Consecration and distribution are problematic due to the problem of touching the elements

I know there has been some disquiet and I share your pain

But like the woman with internal bleeding, rather than touch the body of our Lord all that is required is to touch the hem of his robe instead

But above all, the story of the Centurion’s son this morning should give us the greatest hope of all

Even when touch is denied or is simply not possible

As the centurion says “Only say the word and I shall be healed”

And if we can accept Christ’s word alone, we too can be healed

For as the Gospel says “Truly I tell you, in no one in Israel have I found such faith”