NATIONAL BREAST CANCER AWARENESS MONTH
SUNDAY OCTOBER 20, 2013
REFLECTING UPON BREAST CANCER, THE BROKENNESS OF OUR SOULS, THE 23rd PSALM, PAUL’S QUESTION AND JESUS’ ANSWER
It has been ten years by my reckoning, though I might be off, time sometimes has this way of getting away from me, one year melting into the next. Ten years since the woman we’ll call Grace came to church with her daughter, and her daughter’s confirmation came and went and still they came together, the two of them, worshipping the Lord. That says a lot right there, doesn’t it? About their faithfulness. Their thirst for community and worship. They were quiet, right side towards the back, sort of people. Every Sunday, sitting there, singing there, praying there, regular as rain. So it surprised me when they missed a Sunday and then another and when I was about to pick up the phone and call, my own phone rang and Grace announced that she was in the hospital, that her cancer had come back, I not knowing that she had cancer, breast cancer, sometime in the past. “Would I come and visit,” she asked. “Of course I would,” I said, and I did.
So much in life gives birth to fear. Just the word “cancer” brings fear along as an unwanted and uninvited companion, a stranger in the shadows. The fear of “what now?” The fear of “what will this mean?” The fear of “what if?” And when one finds oneself in the valley of the shadow of death, such fears are so often waiting.“Though I walk through the Valley of the Shadow of Death I will fear no evil,” the psalmist declares.
But sometimes, we are afraid.
When you walk into a hospital room, everything hits you at once. You might find yourself counting all of the bags hanging on the IV stand, for example, noticing their colors, clear, red, yellow. And the sounds of a machine dosing their contents into tubes that lead to veins or arteries, I always get confused into which. And the sounds of machines measuring breaths, and each heartbeat, and blood pressure and oxygen, and more besides. The cancer had led to bleeding and Grace had to receive a lot of blood, so we organized the blood drive and we donated in her name, to do something, anything, to help. She was fighting the fight of her life, for her life, on the front lines, and we, like the support people far back from the trenches and far from sounds of bombs exploding and the smell of sulfur and death, did what we could. We bleed for a woman bleeding. We prayed for a woman praying. The days added up, one after another. And while we lived our lives, Grace lived hers, fighting on, giving ground reluctantly, inch by inch, a mother and wife with responsibilities, with much to live for, to fight for, to gaze into the eyes of death, to know what death looked like, smelled like, to hear its voice in the sounds of her lungs struggling to breathe; death, which would just not let her be.
The Apostle Paul writes to the church at Rome “What then shall we say about these things?” Such things as one supposes as the battles we fight between health and illness, wholeness and brokenness: the battles with cancer and all of the wars our body may fight against disease, against illness, breaking down, wearing out, against infirmity.
What then shall we say about these things and our fear of them and our fear if they take hold and if they should choose to hold on with unrelenting tenacity?
What then shall we say about these things?The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in want. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads my besides the still waters. He restores my soul.
That is what Jesus does. Mere time won’t do it. Not time; time that marches on burying our wounds and wounded memories under a stack of others, the weight pushing all of our yesterday’s down, flattened, but not gone, left in the landfill of our lives.
Jesus brings peace to our suffering. Healing to our pain. Hope amid our desperation. Resilience and strength against all that leaves us broken: our doubt, our fear.
He restores our wounded soul and declares that there are limits to the power of disease and illness. A threshold that they cannot cross.Among us this morning are survivors of disease and illness. Survivors of woundedness of mind and body and soul. We rejoice with those who rejoice in the victory that gives life in the face of disease, of illness overcome. And we recognize this morning especially those whose lives have been touched by breast cancer and who live as survivors among us, inspiring us by their faith, their courage, by the audacious hope with which they embrace this gift of life. But we also acknowledge that some of our woundedness comes from loved ones for whom the battle is now over and for whom Christ’s victory over death serves as their victory, the disease having run its course, but not having the final word. Time will not heal such wounds, but this should not leave us despairing. For we have one who is faithful always, in whose power we find victory forever undiminished. Who has healed us by his wounds. Who has freed us in and through grace outpouring. We have one who speaks a word of life that the very bonds of death cannot silence.
Jesus is our victory, our life, and our all.
And nothing in heaven or on earth can separate us from his love.