8.00 Holy Communion 22nd August 2021
Ephphatha, Healing and John of Beverley
Mark 7. 31 ff
I spent some time this week in Beverley Minster, my former parish church. Here at St John at Hampstead we were once confused about which John we were dedicated to: St John the Evangelist or St John the Baptist. There was some hedging of bets for a while until we landed on the Evangelist. Beverley Minster is also dedicated to St John the Evangelist but it traces its founding to another St John: John of Beverley. Though not the patron saint of the Minster he continues to be hugely honoured in the church he established.
When John was Bishop of York he founded a place of retreat in a “lee”, a clearing in woods inhabited by beavers. It was a “beaver lee”, hence Beverley. He retired there in 717 AD and was buried there in 721 AD. Why speak of him in terms of today's readings from the Book of Common Prayer? When John was Bishop of Hexham he had ordained Bede, who later wrote that amazing Ecclesiastical History of the English Church and Peoples. Like many clergy he was very fond of the bishop who ordained him and if you read Bede you'll find warm recollections of the episcopacy of John.
In particular Bede recounts a miracle which took place in another “lee”, this time outside Hexham, now the village of St John Lee. John retreated there for Lent. In the group gathered around him to pray was a young man who was unable to hear, unable to speak, and in such distress that his hair had all fallen out. Bede recounts that John prayed with the young man, and even describes a kind of speech therapy. By Easter the young man's tongue is loosed, his ears are opened, and his hair grew back. As I prayed each day near John’s grave I did wonder whether the hair part of the miracle might be re-enacted, but to no avail.
Because of the miracle John became associated with ministry among the deaf. There are schools for the deaf dedicated to him, and a Sunday in May was named after that really complicated word that we find in our gospel reading: “Ephphatha”, or “be opened”. You'll find that Deaf Awareness week is now held in the second week of May and I'm sure that relates to the fact that the Second Sunday of May is nearest to John’s feast day.
When Jesus heals in the Gospels they are recounted as important things in themselves. Those who have a disability are given freedom from it, and it transforms their lives. In addition the Gospel stories are meant to teach us that in healing something physical Jesus can heal the whole of our lives. As eyes are opened physically, so we can trust that Jesus can open our whole lives to the riches of God's Word: that we will see as it were inwardly as well as outwardly. As ears are opened physically we can trust that Jesus is able to open the whole of our lives to be enriched by God's Word. And so it goes on: a physical wholeness expresses the hope of a spiritual and soulful wholeness through forgiveness and new life. In the Gospels when someone has died and has been brought back to this life we are pointed to Jesus as the one who conquers death ultimately and leads us to life in glory.
It's important to say that those who have physical disabilities are not less than those without them. Not everyone in the Gospels is healed physically. There are deep mysteries here, and we must honour all who carry disability and live with such things fruitfully and gloriously. But we can see that in the opening of ears and the loosening of a tongue is an image of a life made whole and joyful. In Jesus Christ may we be open to the life-giving healing Spirit of God, and may we offer such new life to all that we may rejoice that in our whole lives we are opened, healed, and forgiven. May we bring that good news to all as John of Beverley brought it to the peoples of the north of England and whose memory is treasured still, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.Print This Page