Healing Series, Sunday 1
We are gathering this Sunday and for the next two Sundays to celebrate and beseech our God, who heals. God is first named as ‘healer’ in Exodus 15:22, which says, “if you will listen carefully to the voice of the Lord your God, and do what is right in his sight, and give heed to his commandments and keep all his statutes, I will not bring upon you any of the diseases that I brought upon the Egyptians; for I am the Lord who heals you.” We are familiar with the image of a God who heals and soothes and comforts. We have heard of Christ the physician. Indeed the story that Weldon shared with the children is only one of many stories in which Jesus is the agent of physical healing for individuals that sought him out.
Healing continued to be a ministry in the early church. Jesus gave the power of healing to his disciples, and James 5:14 and 15 says ‘if any among you are sick? You should call for elders of the church and have them pray over them, anointing them with oil in the name of the Lord. The prayer of the faith will save the sick and the Lord will raise them up; and anyone who has committed sins is forgiven.’
Today many of us fulfill vocations in healing through nursing, counseling, becoming doctors and massage therapists and naturopaths and professions. Contemporary Christians often see the healing work of God happen through the established medical system. It was as I thought about my own most recent encounter with this system that I began to develop and idea about whom Christ can be to us in our pain and how we can heal.
I will say from the top that I approach this topic of healing with some sensitivity, having never suffered through major illness or injury. Though I have had my share of cut and scrapes, in the scheme of things I am healthy. But my recent experience with childbirth taught me something about the relationship between pain and new life. It also gave me a new way to think about companions for that journey and the way in which Christ can be comfort, companion, partner and advocate even when one’s whole being and body knows only its present pain.
I, and I’m sure many of you have heard of stories of people faced with terminal illness who experience a new birth that has nothing to do with physical regeneration. Some come to an understanding that healing does not mean restoring the body or the situation to what it was before the illness or brokenness occurred. Healing is not the cure. A friend and physician in the hospice movement offered me these words from writer/doctor/mystic Rachael Naomi Remen,
“We thought we could cure everything, but it turns out that we can only cure a small amount of human suffering. The rest of it needs to be healed, and that’s different. It’s different. I think science defines life in it’s own way, but life is larger than science. Life is filled with mystery, courage, heroism, and love – all these things that we can witness but not measure or even understand, but they make our lives valuable anyway.”
Christ of mystery and heroism and love and courage is the one who helps to birth that newness of life. Even if what is ‘birthed’ is death – death of a relationship, of a part of the body, of a way of life, or of the body itself. Life in the arms of God is a newness of life that we will never experience in this life. While we live, there will always be sin. There will always be the powers that mar and destroy the shalom that God intends. There will always be war and disease and broken relationships. And yet God is in the void bringing healing as well. I have a poem on my bulletin board called ‘The Slip’ by Wendell Berry. Part of it reads like this:
“… The maker moves
In the unmade, stirring the water until
it clouds, dark beneath the surface,
stirring and darkening the soul until pain
perceives new possibility. There is nothing
to do but learn and wait, return to work
on what remains. Seed will sprout in scar.
Though death is in the healing, it will heal.”
Certainly, the experience of Bartimeus is literally dark and painful. Bartimeus is the only named recipient of Jesus’ healing in the Gospels. This is significant because his name means ‘son of honor’ and it is juxtaposed against a most dishonorable situation – blind and begging at the side of the road. From his begging post he cried out to Jesus, Son of David.
Not only does Jesus create newness in Bartimeus’ life, he is present and empowering in his struggle, quieting those who would have silence Bartimeus and focusing on the man himself. Not only is B. named, but in this healing story, more time is spent on the problem than on the resultant healing. And in fact it is in the problem and the pain and the dishonor that we need Jesus the most. It is the struggle and not the destination in which we most need the supportive hands of others when we are weak and tired and raw. As he cries out for mercy Jesus does not make any assumptions about what Bartimeus wants. He treats him with honor by asking him, ‘what do you want me to do for you?’
In my birth experience we had a family doctor and ob present for Naomi’s entrance into the world. I’m not regretful of our choices, but I believe many women find having a midwife a very empowering experience. These are practitioners who are trained to allow the woman’s body to do what it is created to do and not intervene unless necessary. They are present throughout the birth process, unlike a doctor, who is called in at the end. A midwife can be the one to literally support and hand-hold and breathe and urge until that final push.
For Bartimeus what results from his healing is indeed a new thing. Not only can he see, he begins a life of discipleship after Christ. It is likely that none of us will have an encounter with Christ that is comparable in any physical sense with what Bartimeus experienced with Jesus. What will come out of illness and brokenness and sin is going to be unique to each situation and it will likely take a lot more pushing and groaning and hard work when we struggle with our illnesses and brokenness before we see when God is midwifing something new into the situation.
Our ritual of anointing this morning is meant to be a way of inviting Christ into those places that hurt, that feel as if they are groan for something to change and move and grow into something new. We use oil and an ancient symbol of healing, as a physical reminder of the way that God touches us, as a way to connect to all those saints before us who were anointed in being called to God’s purpose and marked for God’s kingdom. You may be anointed for yourself, for physical or spiritual or mental healing, or you may be anointed on behalf of another. There are many needs for healing in the world and in our lives. As we move into preparation for anointing, I will guide us into a meditation time.
I invite you to relax into a comfortable position as we move into guided meditation.
In the silence, listen to your body. As you breathe, listen to your breath. Breathe deeply and imagine the oxygen penetrating to the end of your fingers, to the soles of your feet. It is the breath of life. It is the breath of God. It is God’s healing Spirit, entering your body and each breath you exhale is whatever is broken, impure, whatever is un-whole and unholy.
Where in your body do you need the new life that Christ can help you birth?
Where in your mind and spirit do you need new life.
Jesus Christ, Son of David, have mercy on us.
Continue to let your breath be your guide – inviting the Spirit into you. And now as you breathe out, move out with your breath beyond your body. Breathe for your family and friend. For your church and community. Invite the healing hands of Christ into the brokenness of relationships, of bodies and minds.
Who among your loved ones and friends cries out for rebirth?
Who in this neighbourhood and city longs to be taken into the arms of Christ?
Jesus Christ, son of David, have mercy on us.
Breathe now in unison with creation.. For the whole creation groaning in it’s longing for God’s grace and mercy. The nations and leaders brought down by violence, peoples oppressed by poverty and powers, systems tempted by greed and prejudice.
What in creation groans for healing what has been torn apart?
Jesus Christ, son of David, have mercy on us.
Sophia Christ, Wisdom of God who was present at the birth of Creation,
Be present now as Creation groans,
as we, your children, long for healing and new life.
Hold the hands of those who cry out, of those who mourn
Brace up the ones who are struggling and weak,
Help us to live in eager anticipation of the new birth,
Even as we breathe through the agony of labor.