A reflection on 2 Kings 5:1-14 and Mark 1:40-45
D and I joined the Episcopal Church after we had been married for 4 years. Our daughter Jessica was about one, and dressed in her frilly Sunday best with a big bow in her hair, the women of the church thought she looked just like the little girl on Full House.
The Church we joined was about 150 years old, in a Northwest Chicago neighborhood. D’s grandparents and mother use to live just around the corner from the church. Our house, at that time, was a few blocks away.
The Church was a white stucco building with red doors. Inside was red carpeting, stained glass windows, and light oak pews, altar rail, and altar. It was small but charming. The people were friendly enough, the priest kind. Before long we were in an inquirer’s class learning about the policies and practices of the Episcopal Church. In the fall the Bishop came to visit. He confirmed me and others in the class and received Dan. Attending church, working in various ways in the life of the church, and contributing from our time, talent, and treasure, we became full members of the church.
In January we attended our first annual meeting of that parish, my first annual meeting in a church of any kind. We had a lovely brunch prepared by members of the congregation and then moved into the business portion of the meeting. Somehow, and I don’t remember how, this meeting erupted into an angry explosion. All of a sudden people were yelling at each other, bringing up old wounds and hurts, some of them 20 and 30 years old. Dan and I sat there in stunned silence. We had no idea there was that kind of hurt going on in the people we had come to love. And we certainly thought it was odd behavior for a church community.
I don’t remember now what was done to move through this hurt, if anything. I wasn’t serving on vestry or in any of the leadership areas. What I do remember is that a few years later we had a new priest. He arrived on Ash Wednesday in time for our fish fry supper. This parish put on wonderful meals for the neighborhood, including a Thanksgiving day meal and a homemade fish fry every Ash Wed. While Thanksgiving was free, the fish fry was a fundraiser for the parish and we sold tickets throughout the neighborhood. It was delicious, but as you can imagine, with splattered grease all over the kitchen, it was also a huge mess!
We were part way through our supper when the new priest arrived. The matriarchs and patriarchs of that parish literally escorted the priest into the parish hall directly to their table. He did not have an opportunity to greet others along the way. From there we went into worship and began Lent. A few weeks later these same people who escorted the priest into the church were now citing all the things he did wrong, often announcing them to the altar party before we processed in to begin worship. Clearly the unhappiness had not been settled in that annual meeting years before.
Sometime into his ministry this new priest began to hold, approximately once a month, healing services during the Sunday morning worship. He offered them according to the order in the Book of Common Prayer, after the confession and before the peace. He invited people to come forward, down the center aisle, and receive anointing, the laying on of hands, and a prayer. At first I thought it was very odd. Some sort of mumbo jumbo and magic. But over time I began to see how this ritual was working through the people of the church, bringing a sense of community that had been missing, of wholeness, and hope. The old wounds and hurts were being held up by an entire community of people all praying together for healing. And healing began to take place. Of course the healing prayers were not the only cause of the healing but they seemed to help.
As human beings we are all broken in some way. In one chapter of her book “Christianity for the Rest of Us” Diana Butler Bass describes the healing ministry of several churches from different Christian denominations.
She says, “Healing is an expression of God’s harmony – what the Hebrew scriptures refer to as shalom, God’s dynamic wholeness, which is both personal and communal healing. Walter Brueggermann describes (this) as the central vision of the Bible in which all of creation is one …the healing of the disordered and broken into the harmony of its created wholeness.” (DBB Christianity for the Rest of Us, pg 110)
In our Christian worship we are offered three rituals for healing: baptism, anointing, and the Eucharist, each intended to remind us of our story and the way in which God desires wholeness and harmony in creation. In the ancient church those desiring baptism were typically adults who had to spend two years preparing to be baptized on Easter Day.
Baptism is an opportunity for healing because it offers us, both the one being baptized, and those of us renewing our baptismal covenant, to remember who we are as the Body of Christ. The entire baptismal rite focuses us on the ways we are broken or contribute to the brokenness of the world and the healing power offered to us through the Holy Spirit. In just a few minutes we will baptize Graham Robert and I will place the sign of the cross on his forehead. The cross is made using holy oil called Chrism. Chrism is blessed by the bishop each year during holy week and distributed to the priests of every church for use in baptism, anointing for healing, and last rites. This sign of the cross using Chrism, was made on each of our foreheads, marking us as Christ’s own forever. Another sign of the cross is made on our foreheads on Ash Wednesday.
The Ash Wednesday service, which will be a week from this Wednesday, February 25, is a time for us to remember again who we are and whose we are. This time cross is marked on our foreheads using ashes burned from the Palms distributed during Palm Sunday. Ash Wednesday is the beginning of Lent and points us to ponder the various ways we are broken and the ways we are causing brokenness.
Lent then is a time for us to seek forgiveness and begin the healing process within ourselves, with our world, and our community, and with God. This year in Lent we will explore our brokenness and potential for healing, in a number of ways. Each Sunday we offer anointing and prayers for healing, offered by the Daughters of the King, in the chapel. During Lent we will expand this anointing service and make it available in three places in the church instead of just the chapel.
So, baptism is one way the church offers us healing and wholeness, intentional anointing and prayers for healing is a second way. The third way the church offers us healing and wholeness is in the body of the Eucharistic prayer.
Each Sunday we hear our Christian story in the words of scripture and in the prayers at the Eucharist.
The Eucharistic prayer offers us the opportunity to healed, to be renewed and to be sent forth to do likewise in the world. If you listen carefully to the words of the Eucharistic prayer you will hear this conveyed.
For Christians, the heart of all human pain and suffering is summed up in the life and death of Christ, while all hope for healing is found in the resurrection. The reality of pain and suffering is common to every human being, we all are broken in some way by life. But it is from our broken places, and in the healing of that brokenness, through prayer, and through the love and grace of God, that we are able to offer love and healing to others.