From the Rev. Chuck Jones
“Are any among you sick? They should call for the elders of the church and have them pray over them, anointing them with oil in the name of the Lord.” James 5:14
In my sermons, I find myself most always focusing on preaching about the Kingdom of God. And of course, this isn’t a bad thing. But in our Gospels, a majority of Jesus’ ministry is defined by his constant concern for the sick and the need for healing. And in the Gospel of Luke, Jesus gives this mission to the Twelve: “Then Jesus called the twelve together and gave them power and authority over all demons and to cure diseases, and he sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal.” (Luke 9:1-2) Healing is part of our mandate from Christ.
It may seem odd to focus on this passage at this time of year when we are supposed to be filled with joy and happiness. But in truth, it’s for this very reason that there could be no better time for us to consider the situations of those who may be sick, physically, mentally or emotionally. The pressure to be “merry” can actually exacerbate one’s physical ailments or hard feelings of loneliness and sadness. Because of this, many churches now offer a special “Blue Christmas” healing service during Advent.
As Episcopalians, a healing ministry doesn’t look like what some might have seen and heard from televangelists who show people throwing aside crutches or claiming to be healed after being smacked on the forehead or shoved across a stage. Whether or not these types of miracles are true, this has given a bad name to what we understand a healing ministry to be.
In her book, ‘One to Watch, One to Pray’, the Rev’d Dr Minka Sprague writes, “The healing embrace that our angel of Luke-Acts offers describes a creation that is healed when God and creation love each other in return.” And she explains how the author of Luke makes a unique distinction between “curing” and “healing”.
Curing is a medical model and what happens when a physical malady or disease no longer exists – a blind person can see, or a lame person can walk. Healing, on the other hand, is “bringing together things that belong together, the making whole of things rent apart.” In both cases, however, relationships or even bodies are “set right”, as Luke would say.
The ancient rites associated with spiritual healing were revived in the 1979 Book of Common Prayer and additional rites, prayers and Collects have been published subsequently in the supplementary book ‘Enriching Our Worship’. This speaks to the fact that the ministry of healing is being reclaimed in the Episcopal church.
Healing can take many forms. It’s important to convey that it’s not magic or a guarantee to drive away any and all disease. It can be a one-time occurrence, or it can be a process. It’s simply holding up an individual before God and asking for God’s intervention in whatever way God deems appropriate.
There is no single purpose or strict way for healing to happen. We bring forward our pains and sorrows, our relationships, even our hopes and deepest desires and offer them to God to make us well and whole, renewed and refreshed.
Granted, some people report physical cures and I’m sure this happens. But people request healing prayers for many reasons – some ask for personal healing of body, heart and mind while others bring concerns for those they love. It’s not unusual even to ask to be held in prayer because of challenging conditions throughout the world. Whatever the reason and whatever the outcome, healing prayers provide an opportunity to experience God’s grace.
At the Cathedral, prayers for healing are offered at the Tuesday noon Eucharist each week. This takes the form of a quiet prayer offered by the priest in response to a specific request, providing a safe and gentle laying on of hands and anointing with oil as an outward symbol of consecration. Physical touch is a soothing and an important part of the experience.
I invite you to consider the opportunity for healing prayers, especially during Advent, when we are making space in our spiritual lives in preparation for Christmas.