In the Chapel of All Saints, behind the high altar, the four Caroline Townshend window in the north and south walls were given to St Chads in 1909 as a thanksgiving to God when the first vicar, Henry Chadwick Windley, recovered from illness. We don’t know what the illness was. It was a magnificent gift, a wonderful way of celebrating recovery.
Many of you will have experience of healing from illness. I was diagnosed with cancer in 2006 and had surgery and radiotherapy. I was very aware of the prayer of friends and family – it was a powerful experience. And I was very thankful for my recovery.
But its not straightforward. Not everybody is cured.
The Archbishop of York was treated for prostate cancer earlier this year. Then a couple of months ago he reported that he had been cured and was very thankful to God.
Someone I knew on one of my e-networks was a bit upset at the tone of the Archbishop’s statement, because a friend of his had cancer and wasn’t going to recover but was declining rapidly towards death.
Similarly, shortly after I returned to work after illness, a young parishioner died of another type of cancer, and his death shook us to the core. He had been prayed for, just as much as me. He had faith and came to church..
Unfortunately, not everybody gets cured, however much prayer is offered, however much faith there is.
The Gospel reading was about healing from leprosy. The ten men who were cured by Jesus suffered from leprosy.
Leprosy is still rife in India, Africa and South America. Over the centuries is has been a disease that has caused so much fear, not to mention disability, pain and distress for sufferers. It can be cured now, by a cocktail of antibiotics, and we praise God that cure is possible. In the past, sufferers were excluded from society because people were afraid of catching the disease.
We may not have leprosy in Britain today, but there are other conditions that generate fear.
HIV and AIDS certainly come into this category, particularly in 1980s when the condition was first recognised and people didn’t understand it very well, so that you got examples of terrible lack of compassion and care, like undertakers refusing to handle the bodies of those who had died of AIDS.
Mental Illness is another area of health that people don’t understand.
The trouble is that where there is a lack of understanding, there is fear and then people behave badly towards sufferers, excluding them, calling names, mistreating them.
On Friday, I went to a conference about churches and mental health. The first speaker was Kevan Jones, MP for North West Durham, who spoke in parliament last year about his experience of depression. He was inspiring. There was a woman on my table who had been a Clinical Psychologist, and was then diagnosed with a very severe form of Bi-Polar Disease. She is so poorly that she attempts suicide at least once a month. Her faith is very important to her. She doesn’t have a church to go to at the moment, because she has been excluded from the churches she wants to go to because she is also gay.
In the discussion I attended in the afternoon, one woman made a distinction between healing and cure. Not everybody is cured from disease. But healing is something different. Healing is deeper. Healing can be learning to live peaceably with a chronic condition. Healing is being open to the wisdom of our frailty. Healing is receiving God’s forgiveness. Healing is dealing with the pain that others have caused us and finding a way to forgiving them. Healing is finding God’s peace and manifesting it in our lives.
As a church, we need to be part of the healing. This church needs to be a place where people can find healing. We will do that when we can offer a real, deep welcome to people – not just a superficial greeting, but accepting people as they are, loving them as they are, whatever diagnosis they carry, however strangely they behave when they are in the grip of illness. How can we make St Chads a safe place where people can find peace and hope, love and faith?
Jesus healed ten men of leprosy. Maybe not all of them had Mycobacterium Leprae; maybe some of them were suffering from eczma or other skin conditions. In Jesus’ day, all skin conditions were classified as leprosy because they didn’t have the means to distinguish one disease from another. Whatever disease they actually had, they had been excluded from their families and villages, unable to work, unable to live a normal life. Jesus sent them off to the priests to be declared clean of disease and fit to return home and go back into society.
The men set off and, as they went, the signs of disease disappeared: the hard, scaly skin turned fresh and new.
One man saw the changes in his body and he was filled with joy. He turned back from the road to the priests – the people who would certify him fit and well – and went back to Jesus, falling at his feet and gave thanks. He recognised where the cure had come from. He knew that God had done this and God was working through Jesus.
This man was healed. He was cured, right enough, but he was also healed.
Kevan Jones said on Friday that his depression was part of who he was. He would never be cured of it, but he had learned to live with it. He accepted it. In fact, he said, he didn’t want to be cured from it, because it made him who he is. That is true healing.