Good morning, and welcome to the Daily Service with me, Mark Tan.
My Mum was diagnosed with breast cancer a few weeks before my wedding. What was supposed to be a joyous occasion was tarnished by the stress of examinations, investigations and diagnosis. Even after initial treatment, for months, if not years, she continued to struggle with the stigma of cancer, the spectre of recurrence and the phantom of self-doubt. These struggles were not just collateral damage from cancer; they were central to her loss of identity, of independence, and of home. The cancer label made her just another statistic, one who either survived beyond 5 years, or didn’t. The anaesthesia and surgery took way the control she was used to having as a strong-willed, accomplished and successful businesswoman. She lost her hair, which affected her feelings of womanhood. My bother and I lived in different countries and couldn’t physically be there for her. For her, the struggle within ran far deeper than just the flesh in her breast.
The first song reminds us of God’s presence when it feels like we are alone in our struggles. It is sung here by the Staple Singers.
Nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen
arr. and sung by the Staple Singers
Many people today will be diagnosed with cancer. We thank you for modern medicine’s ability to cure some cancers, and to control the symptoms of those that cannot be cured. We pray that the struggles of stigma, doubt and fear will be exceeded by your peace and love.
Many more people live each day with chronic heath conditions. We thank you for all the technologies and medicines that enable us to live for longer. Please help us to treasure what we have, and cling even more tightly to you, the pearl of great price. May we stand on your promises that never fail. Amen.
I first became aware of the inadequacies of battle imagery during an undergraduate module in medical humanities. I have since been frequently reminded about this through many patient encounters. I’ve heard phrases such as “she’s a fighter” or “we’ll conquer this disease” in many patient conversations. Yet, I also know that with the capabilities of modern medicine, many will live with cancer and chronic illnesses. Much like my Mum, victory was not quite as straightforward as “beating cancer”. Likewise, ICU survivors do not simply “win a battle” against critical illness. Many continue to struggle with mental trauma, physical disability, and a reduction in their quality of life. As I prepared for this service, I struggled with the tension of these experiences and how such imagery is used in the Bible reading. Listen to these words from the letter of Paul to the Ephesians 6: 10-17, followed by a song by Charles Wesley based on the same.
Soldiers of Christ, Arise
Performed by St Michael’s Singers/Leddington Wright
When I read this passage I immediately thought of patients who felt they were battling illness. I felt uncomfortable using such imagery considering the complexities of modern medicine and the nuances of survivorship. But as I prayed and re-read it several times, I realised that I had imposed my own prejudices onto the passage. Paul specifically mentions struggles beyond flesh and blood. Even more surprisingly, there is not a single verb of offence on our part. No fighting, no conquering, and no beating. In fact, just several chapters earlier, we are reminded that all things will indeed be brought together under the headship of Jesus Christ. Instead, our call is simply to hold onto this truth. And He provides all that we need to do so, in beautiful intangible forms that the world is unable to take away. From readiness to faith, from righteousness to the Word of God. I am glad that our protection comes not from our own physical attributes, nor intellectual cunning, but from the very reliance on the Almighty and omnipotent God.
Let us pray
Precious Jesus, thank you that you have won the ultimate victory at Calvary. Whether we face physical, mental, emotional or spiritual struggles today, please hold us securely in your palm. We thank you for all the good gifts you have given us, whether tangible or not. Please help us to use them for your glory. We are sorry for the times we have felt inadequately equipped. Please grant us faith to know that in time, all things under heaven and earth will be brought under one head which is Christ. Amen.
The Lord’s prayer is read today by my Mum Lilian Tay
Our father who art in heaven
Hallowed be your name
Your kingdom come, your will be done
On earth as it is in heaven
Give us this day our daily bread
And forgive us our sins
As we forgive those who sin against us
And lead us not in to temptation
But deliver us from evil
For the kingdom, the power and the glory are Yours
Now and for ever
My Mum wrote about her cancer journey in a memoir entitled Cancer and the Bronze Serpent. When she reflected on her experiences, the imageries she relied on did not solely revolve around battle. For the initial surgery, she drew comfort from the Lord as her shepherd in Psalm 23. During the side effects of chemotherapy, she held onto the miracle of Moses leading the Israelites across the Red Sea. For tolerating an accelerated radiotherapy schedule, she relied on the protection conferred by the angel in the furnace with Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. And for hormone therapy which slowly eroded her feeling of womanhood, she returned to the healing offered by the bronze serpent during Israel’s exile. For each of her struggles, God provided her with all she required, each step of the way. He will do the same for each of us as we continue our own journeys with Him.
He who would valiant be
Sung by Exmoor Singers of London
The Lord bless you and keep you
The Lord make his face shine upon you and be gracious to you
The Lord turn his face towards you and give you peace