As we looked at the story of the outcast leper at The Globe Church, it brought home the pain, the isolation and lack of dignity that society's outcasts experience. Just a few hundred metres from where our church meets, stands a memorial to such outcasts — Cross Bones Graveyard, a burial ground for prostitutes and paupers of centuries past. Each month locals gather “to renew the memorial shrine at the gates, to remember the outcast, dead and alive, and to reclaim a secret history.”
I was privileged to investigate this further. A local girl told me about a recent ceremony at the graveyard:
John, the cloaked priest-like leader who said he was once visited by the spirit of the Goose (an old name for a prostitute), wafted incense on the crowd of 20 as we stood in the street between the dead and the Catholic church. He rang bells, recounted the history of the graveyard (as told in his book), and led songs on his guitar. Participants tied ribbons on the gate, read poetry, shook out anything unhealthy from inside themselves, and repeated John’s “blessings” on the spirits of the dead.
Then a regular attender reminded us in his thick accent that it was Yom Kippur, the highest celebration of the Jewish year — a day of repentance. No one repented. We just moved around the corner, passing a bottle of gin among ourselves.
We entered the graveyard for a time of silence on the grounds — mostly concrete with sections of foliage barely visible in the darkness. John waved his Snowdonian feather at each person in our circle and came back around beating his Tibetan hand drum. Then he led us around the garden in the centre of the graveyard and stopped at the shrine to Mary — or call her the goddess of your choice, or the lady who looks after the dead, if you’d like.
John pointed out the Green Man in the corner, and another regular attender led the group in a foreign melodic chant honouring this garden deity of growth and rebirth as the ceremony drew to a close.
How different to the encounter we had on Sunday with Jesus. The only person ringing a bell in the biblical account was the outcast leper, warning people not to come near for fear of also becoming an unclean outcast. Undeterred, Jesus did more than speak a 'blessing' over the man. He reached out and touched him. "Be clean", was the blessing Jesus spoke. And the man was!
Healed of his leprosy, he went back into the community and Jesus was left in his place, alone — a foretaste of his future path, where he would die in the place of outcasts. Forsaken by His Father on the cross, Jesus took the isolation we deserve for rejecting God. He swapped places with us. So that instead of ending up in a burial ground for outcasts, we can know an eternity in community. In community with God.
In a way we are all outcasts. That's something worth remembering. But don't stay an outcast. Ask Jesus to touch you.