Rachel Treweek is the Bishop of Gloucester. In 2019 she had a Sabbatical – a time away from her normal duties for reflection and study. The result was a book “Encounters”. In one of those mysterious coincidences, Rachel had been consecrated bishop on the Feast of Mary Magdalene and four years later, on the anniversary, she visited Magdala in Galilee. There is a modern church with a basement chapel with a mosaic floor from the first century marketplace in the local port. It is very likely that Jesus would have walked on those very stones. There she saw a very unusual picture of Jesus. You can see it at https://www.christian.art/daily-gospel-reading/105 Do you remember the story of the woman who touched the fringe of Jesus’ cloak? He was surrounded by people, including officials of the governing Roman forces, and she didn’t like to interrupt, but her faith was so strong that she believed that just touching his clothing would be enough. It was enough to heal her, but Jesus also insisted on speaking to her. He wanted to her to meet him, as well as be healed. The picture in the chapel shows the feet of Jesus surrounded by many other feet, and the finger of the woman stretched out to touch his cloak. Rachel writes “I experienced this chapel as a place where heaven and earth embraced”. She was astounded to find that the name of the chapel was “Encounter” – the word she had already chosen as the title of her book.
The book reflects on her own relationship with God in the light of her ministry and family life intertwined with stories from the New Testament. Naturally, she includes the story of the haemorrhaging woman portrayed in the picture in the chapel. Jesus calls her “daughter”, and Rachel reflects on how she has been shaped (but not defined) by all the female relationships within her family. She had longed to be a mother herself, but it had never happened. Her mother, however, had 4 sisters, and there were many aunts and cousins whose lives were entwined with her own. Her ministry took her to visiting a women’s prison, and she was again reminded of the picture in the chapel where the woman’s hand reaches out with both desperation and decision. The women in prison, often with a history of abuse, and highly vulnerable need to hear Jesus’ encouragement to take that step to reach out for healing.
She finishes the chapter with this prayer of St Anselm from the eleventh century.
Jesus, like a mother you gather your people to you;
you are gentle with us as a mother with her children.
Often you weep over our sins and our pride,
tenderly you draw us from hatred and judgement.
You comfort us in sorrow and bind up our wounds,
in sickness you nurse us, and with pure milk you feed us.
Jesus, by your dying we are born to new life;
by your anguish and labour we come forth in joy.
Despair turns to hope through your sweet goodness;
through your gentleness we find comfort in fear.
Your warmth gives life to the dead,
your touch makes sinners righteous.
Lord Jesus, in your mercy heal us;
in your love and tenderness remake us.
In your compassion bring grace and forgiveness,
for the beauty of heaven may your love prepare us.