I am not a fan of excessive heat warnings. The heat index yesterday was about 107 degrees. If you happen to have that weather app that adds snarky comments about the temperature, perhaps you were informed that hell is coming. I think that sums up the Arkansas summer heat pretty well. So, as a coping strategy, I started to daydream about winter. Remember cold breezes, even wind chill? Out of curiosity and a desire for sweater weather, I did some research, and Christmas is only 155 days away. May that realization provide some air conditioning for your souls. And then my thoughts turned to all things cold and Christmas. I recalled with fondness the great Christ Church staff holiday tacky gift exchange of 2016. We gathered in a cozy room while a cold wind blew outside. There were several funny and irreverent items given at the party, but there was a clear winner. One lucky staffer received a mug with a cartoon Jesus on it, complete with a long beard. When you add hot water, the image changes and the beard disappears. The caption reads, “Jesus shaves.”
We got a good laugh out of it. We Episcopalians enjoy a witty play on words, especially sacrilegious ones. We might be a little less likely than other denominations to have mugs that say the real thing, that Jesus saves. I know that when someone asks me if I’m saved, I say yes. But I also imagine a kind of asterisk above my answer. And if you were to look down in the footnotes of my response, I’ll need a couple of paragraphs to explain my “yes.” Many of us do, especially if we come from other backgrounds where that language is more common. We assume that the person asking wants to know if we responded to an altar call, or had a clear moment of accepting Jesus as our savior. Or whether they can stop worrying about an unhappy and very hot destination for us in the afterlife. Because of these assumptions, I think, polite Episcopalians tend to not use that language very often. And if we’re honest, we are sometimes more comfortable with a pun on a mug than the direct question of whether we are saved.
Why bring this up, you ask? In the words of a charming preacher named Fred Craddock, talking about being saved can “scare an entire denomination.” That is most certainly not my intention. Yet I do feel compelled to bring the topic up since it’s right there in the Gospel of Mark. But, you might say, we only see a few verses about how crowds of people gathered around Jesus to be healed. “Wherever he went, into villages or cities or farms, they laid the sick in the marketplaces, and begged him that they might touch even the fringe of his cloak; and all who touched it were healed.” Not a single mention of being saved. Mass healings are something else, right? Well, here’s the thing, the little word for healing in the New Testament is the same as the word for salvation. It can mean either one, to cure or to save, to make well or to ensure salvation.
Take a look at how this double-meaning works. It’s really quite remarkable. A hemorrhaging woman once touched Jesus’ cloak and was healed. He said her faith had made her well. This was not just about her medical condition. She was no longer banished to the margins of society but restored to her community. That’s healing, yes, but also salvation. Or take the blind man he healed and told to go on his way, for his faith had made him well. The man could now see, but he also started to follow Jesus, now with a purpose he didn’t have before. That’s salvation. In Luke, there was a rich man named Zacchaeus who met Jesus and repented of
his greed. Jesus told him that salvation had come to his house. He was healed of a greed that had gripped him, and he made amends with the people he had cheated. That’s salvation (Fred Craddock). There are many examples of this powerful little word, from covering everything from fevers to sins. The last one comes in Mark as Jesus hung on the cross, and the crowd taunted him by saying he should save himself and come down. Little did they know that salvation would come three days later. Somehow it’s all connected, from a blind man regaining his sight to crowds clamoring to touch the fringe of Jesus’ cloak, to the healing of death itself in the new life of resurrection. It’s all salvation.
So what do we make of it? Is it real, we wonder, or is it just a divine daydream about how things could be? And, we wonder, is it for us? Spontaneous healings are one thing, as are the occasional changes of heart – those we can wrap our minds around. But can you and me and this errant world also be made well, or saved?
I think that question becomes more urgent at times, depending on what life throws at us. It certainly feels urgent in the gospel, as the crowds literally chased after Jesus. And if there is a place to put our trust, I think it’s in Jesus’ response to them. He met their urgency with compassion, which tells us something of the nature of God. The gospel response was not judgment or distance, but mercy and touch. Salvation looks like mercy and touch. It changed lives back then. It still does.
It might be helpful to add that salvation is about me and Jesus, and you and Jesus, but it’s also more than that. This is big picture stuff. In the words of St. Paul, salvation is our reminder that, “neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38-39) Salvation is the opposite of all that separates us. It’s the power of a divine love that binds literally everything together. And it holds out a vision of everything restored, everything healed. Our salvation is part of that grand vision.
Isaiah once had a vision in church. He saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lofty, and the hem of God’s robe filled the Temple (Isaiah 6:1). What a beautiful image for the grandeur of God. It’s also delightfully tangible. Imagine God’s hem filling this place. We come here to touch just a piece of the divine, to find healing for our own pain and for this world. And according to Mark, whatever urgency we bring here will be met, not with judgment but with mercy.
Our preacher Fred Craddock came to see that salvation is tied directly to God’s grand dream, God’s desire for the way all things could be. A hope, but more than a hope – a vision unfolding and touching everything. It’s a bit like remembering in this summer heat that cooler breezes will return. Or remembering that when our own sense of unworthiness heats up, we’re still included in the cooling mercy of God. Jesus saves. It might be the biggest word in the bible. “I’m beginning to like this word,” Craddock once said to a congregation much like ours. “I think we might start using it again. I sense that it’s really true. Somebody may even ask you, and you might be inclined to snicker, but they may ask you, are you saved?”