by Rev. Joan Kessler
I don’t know about you, but it seems the thank you card is becoming a thing of the past along with a lot of other paper-type products we used to drop in the mail. Nowadays, we are all so busy and there’s no denying that. More often than not, and living away from family and friends, a gift today means putting money in a card. It is not a strenuous endeavour… go to the shop and buy a card, get some cash from the machine to slip in, write my note with wishes for good health and happiness and to buy something you’d like with this little gift, address, stamp, and take it to the mailbox. All done. But I can’t help but feel a twinge of lament and disappointment when a thank you card isn’t returned. I just want to know that my card arrived, was opened, the gift acknowledged and appreciated.
In our text for this morning from Luke, I get where Jesus is coming from. Ten lepers approach him but keep their distance… this might have a ring of familiarity to it this COVID Thanksgiving. Lepers in Jesus’ day were ostracized and set apart, removed from their communities because it was believed in ancient times that leprosy was highly contagious. In the Old Testament book of Leviticus, a sort of health code manual for the Jewish people, prescribes the following:
The person who has the leprous disease shall wear torn clothes and let the hair of his head be disheveled; and he shall cover his upper lip and cry out, "Unclean, unclean." he shall remain unclean as long as he has the disease. He shall live alone; his dwelling shall be outside the camp.
One source I read this week made a reference to lepers wearing bells around their necks so as to warn off others of their presence and keep everyone safe. But we get this picture… interaction had to happen well-spaced apart, no physical contact. This group of ten made up a bubble and were travelling together in a region of the “in-between”… between Samaria and Galilee… between health and safety on one side, disease and stigmatization on the other. I reflected a lot about this space as we celebrate Thanksgiving this weekend. So much has changed when we think back to Thanksgiving one year ago… who ever thought we would be in the midst of a pandemic. This bubble of ten lepers and their approach towards Jesus and their pleas to be made well got me to thinking about the firsthand experience of COVID. I have said more than once how fortunate we have been, by in large in this community, amongst family and friends that we have not had an outbreak. And I have been reflecting on the safety protocols we all observe every time we leave the house… and I have done my share of lamenting over the freedoms that have been temporarily suspended… it is easy for me to loose sight of that fact I am healthy and so far untouched by the virus; my perspective is informed by this experience. But how different safety protocols and practices must be to daily living where outbreaks have occurred.
With the presence of the pandemic, even though we have not been adversely affected thus far, it has brought with it the rise of stigma. Stigma is defined as a negative stereotype or negative association about people with an illness. Discrimination is being experienced by people who have been infected with the coronavirus; people from countries where the virus is believed to have originated; people who have travelled recently; and with people who have come into contact with someone who has been infected. As I may have told you this past week, my sister came to visit me from out of province. Upon leaving home, her husband cautioned her on posting pictures on social media which would identify her as travelling, because he feared it could potentially negatively impact his job. This is the world we are living in for the time being. And how we lament the loss of simple things like freedom of movement, eating in a restaurant, hugging our friends and family who are not part of our bubble… not being able to make travel plans in advance and letting a microscopic organism dictate our movements.
Our story this morning about the ten lepers who receive wholeness and some kind of amazing restoration from Jesus has me thinking about what I lament and what I am grateful for this Thanksgiving. We know what it is to get busy and forget to say thank you or to think someone knows I am grateful. The nine who went off as Jesus instructed were probably full of mixed emotions… they were going to be reunited with family, resume their place in their community… maybe others had the distancing so engrained they couldn’t quite believe they were once again safe to be near… and maybe some just plain failed to say thank you. I am trying to be more like the Samaritan who comes back to thank Jesus for his kindness… And I’ll say it again… I am so grateful that we have remained relatively untouched by the virus thus far. We can’t take this for granted. I am grateful for all the other day-to-day living things this year in spite of the restrictions that have been put upon me. I am grateful for FaceTime and unlimited long distance plans that allow my girls and I to connect on a regular basis… to see family virtually and know they are ok and doing the best they can. I am grateful for the luxury of a morning coffee from Starbucks and the staff that show up to work. I am grateful for the water I have use of, to drink, to bathe, to do my laundry. I am thankful for the flag person ensuring my safe passage through road construction and the resulting new lovely smooth pavement. I am thankful for my work, my vocation that sees me here in Lake Country having had all kinds of amazing experiences these past ten months. I am grateful for conversations I shared in this past week… for celebrating lives well lived and lives we let go of and all the thanksgivings that came with sharing life with them… for new beginnings and the desire to enter into new covenants… the give and the take, the healing and compassion that go along with all human relationships. I am so grateful for all these things… to sit with one another on the phone, outside on the deck, at the table and talk about meaningful things… all beautiful!
May I bask in these thanksgivings this day, this week, these fall and winter months to come as I strive to stay healthy, happy and connected. And may I have the presence of mind to say so to those I need to thank. As 20th century American writer Gertrude Stein reminds us this day, Silent gratitude isn’t much use to anybody. And isn’t that the truth. May I remember to take time to thank God for all the varied blessings in my life… not because God needs my thanks… but because giving thanks is why my heart is moved to share. It is part of being in relationship. And for every other gift I fail to notice, to acknowledge and appreciate… Thank you… Thank you… Thank You.