The content this month springs from a conversation within a recent Wednesday 6pm communion service.
There was a request to hold a service of healing – something I fully support – whilst recognising that this is not something to be introduced without prior warning.
It can be as simple as a time of prayer with, optionally, hands gently laid on arms or shoulders; there can be anointing with oil. In all this we recognise that we act as a community of faith, praying for one another.
Jesus' teaching stressed the importance of community. We are to live in fellowship and to love and value one another and our neighbour. In his ministry we see Jesus incorporating the outcast and marginalized. Healing meant acceptance back into society for lepers and others who were healed. Sometimes they were told to return to the fellowship of their
extended family, or restoration could entail community action as with Zacchaeus. All this has implications for the church's ministry. It is to be a healing community where shalom is to be evident.
We express this healing community in services, and articulate in it the liturgy, as well as in the social life of the local church. Praise and worship of God puts things into God's perspective. Confession and assurance of God's forgiveness brings a new start. Sharing the peace expresses the acceptance and reconciliation that we have with one another in Christ. We welcome those who come to new life in baptism. We share in the eucharistic feast. We minister to one another in song, music, intercession, practical tasks, preaching, teaching and testimony, as well as in prayer ministry.
The ministry of wholeness and healing should stem from and lead into this healing community, the Body of Christ.
When we lay hands on another in prayer it is not an incantation but a simple recognition that the instinct to pray for someone is strengthened by laying one hand or both on the other person. We do this today identifying with the one to whom our hearts go out, one whose needs we appreciate and long that God should meet, one whose vulnerability moves our compassion and love. It most naturally accompanies direct prayer for an individual.
It has been formalized and made the centrepiece of specific Christian ordinances, notably confirmation and ordination, both of them a laying on of hands with prayer. But its use in a healing ministry lies far back in Christian instincts, and has surfaced well at a time when
mutual touch, such as in the greeting of Peace, has become normal within the life of the church.
It is apparent in Scripture that the physical, emotional, social and spiritual well-being of human beings is closely interconnected. Christ’s work of reconciliation extends beyond the purely personal and relational to the social order and the whole creation (cf Colossians 1.15-
27). The Gospels use the term ‘healing’ both for physical healing and for the broader salvation that Jesus brings. A common New Testament term for sickness is ‘weakness’ (asthenia) (Luke 5.15; 13.11,12; John 5.5); it carries broad associations of powerlessness and vulnerability, including human vulnerability in the face of the dominion of sin and death (Romans 5.6; 8.3). As Christians face weakness, they receive God’s grace, expressed sometimes in an experience of healing and sometimes through the strength that comes in the bearing of weakness (2 Corinthians 12.9).
Acts of healing in the Gospels are intimately related to the restoring of individuals to a place of worth within the social order (cf Mark 1.44; 5.15-20; 6.32-34; Luke 13.10-17). ‘By his wounds you have been healed’ (1 Peter 2.24) makes powerful links between human pain
and vulnerability and the saving impact of Jesus’ own suffering. The same interconnectedness is present where Scripture speaks of God’s image in us to point to the way human life is marred and threatened by the impact of evil and is restored by the new creation in Christ (Romans 3.23; 2 Corinthians 3.18; Ephesians 2.13-16).