We need to cuddle our bunny
You will surprised to know that over an entire decade this is only the second blog I have posted featuring an escaped rabbit. You may recall my posting on 6 May 2011 which featured Barnie the bunny. Well, today’s leporine legend is another B - Benjamin. Jacqui and I have been entrusted with the care of Benjamin by our holiday-going daughter, who deposited him with us complete with a brand-new bunny tent from Amazon to act as a cage. Benjamin had other ideas and decided to gnaw his way to freedom. However, his timing was, to say the least, flawed. For at the very moment he made his break I happened to be sitting on the facing settee, even with mobile phone in hand. So I was able to take this photo as evidence for my distraught daughter. To be fair, our responsibilities as bunny keepers are limited – food and water, of course. But most especially we are to give Benjamin regular cuddles, a ministry I don’t particularly warm to. But cuddling rabbits is hugely important according to a highly influential research project in 1978 by bioengineering pioneer, Bob Nerem. His aim was to show the link between high cholesterol and heart health and for this he used several groups of rabbits kept in laboratory conditions. While the genetically similar rabbits all ate the same high-fat diet, one group appeared protected from a heart attack or stroke. It remained a mystery until the team noticed that one of the lab researchers wasn’t just feeding the rabbits. She was petting and talking to them. Dr. Nerem explained, “She couldn’t help it. It’s just how she was.” In other words, even more than statins, we each need a cuddle for our physical health – it’s how God has made us. Sadly since the onset of social distancing there are many people who have not experienced the touch of another human being, let alone been cuddled. And yet touch is so very important for our well-being. As choreographer Mya Robarts reflects “The human touch is that little snippet of physical affection that brings a bit of comfort, support, and kindness. It doesn’t take much from the one who gives it, but can make a huge difference in the one who receives it.” Jesus knew the power of touch. In fact, the Gospels use the words ‘hands,’ fingers,’ and ‘touch’ nearly two hundred times, and the words often refer to Jesus making physical contact, usually with people in need and always to bless. So he lays his hands on the young children. There are so many examples as Jesus heals through touch, right from the outset of his ministry. “At sunset, the people brought to Jesus all who had various kinds of sickness, and laying his hands on each one, he healed them.” (Luke 4:40 On healing the man who was deaf and could hardly talk, Jesus put his fingers into the man’s ears. (Mark 7:33). Similarly he touches the blind man at Bethsaida, presumably on his eyes (Mark 8:21). Clearly touch is important for Jesus, even if it makes him ritually unclean through touching a leper or a coffin. Rather than back off, Jesus reached out his hand and touched the leper. “I am willing,” he said. “Be clean!” (Mark 1:41). Or when he encounters the burial procession at Nain for a widow’s only son, “then he went up and touched the bier they were carrying him on.” (Luke 7:14). It is not that the leper or the dead man contaminate Jesus through physical touch. The very opposite, his holiness banishes their uncleanness. The woman who dared to touch the hem of his garment knew this instinctively. Through touch Jesus communicates the Kingdom of God, a ministry he entrusts us to continue as shown by the laying on of hands. In fact, even the commissioning is demonstrated through touch, as for example for Timothy (2 Timothy 1:6) So the church in Antioch takes the revolutionary step of sending out Paul and Barnabas to take the Gospel of Jesus to gentile territory. “So after they had fasted and prayed, they placed their hands on them and sent them off.” (Acts 13:3). Such laying on of hands is a key part of New Testament ministry – for commissioning, for the filling of the Holy Spirit, for healing. Moreover, our solidarity in Christ is communicated though what the apostle Paul calls the right hand of fellowship (Galatians 2:9). Through this hand shake we demonstrate our unity in Christ. Touch is important especially as we serve others in the name of Jesus. In fact, it is so important that any abuse can cause terrible problems. Hence the need for clear safeguarding procedures for children and for those who are vulnerable. And tragically we can so easily communicate the coronavirus through touch. These are dire times. However, never forget that Christ seeks to bless with nail-pierced hands. Our fellowship with him comes at a cost, one which he paid at the cross. Such is his love that he can overcome all human constraints and reach out to bless, whatever our situation. That’s something worth holding on to, even as I realise now that Benjamin needs a cuddle before his next escape bid.