Trinity 4 – The Church as place of healing – 27th June 2021
Rev’d Christopher Miles
Readings: Lamentations 3 vv 22 – 33 God’s faithful love
Mark 5 vv 21-E Healing of the sick woman and raising of Jairus’ daughter
- Introduction. As we progress hopefully towards the end of Covid restrictions it is good to have the two positive readings today to encourage us. The reading from Lamentations, speaking of God’s love for us and the reading from Mark’s Gospel with such positive accounts of Jesus’ ministry to those in distress. It is good that, with these accounts in mind, we should consider both the spiritual input to the healing process and the Jesus’ ministry in relation to the specific ministry of the Church as an institution. There are also difficult questions that I cannot even touch on, such as “Why does God inflict plagues on this worldwide level?” Firstly a few words about the readings.
- Lamentations. The book of Lamentations follows the book of the prophet Jeremiah. In the older, Hebrew, Jewish Bible it is simply labelled ‘Lamentations’ but usually attributed to Jeremiah, because in the 2nd Century Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible, the Septuagint, it is entitled ‘The lamentations of Jeremiah’ and opens with the introductory words, ‘And it came to pass, after Israel was taken captive and Jerusalem was made desolate, that Jeremias sat weeping with this lamentation over Jerusalem and said’. Much of the book is the author questioning why God seems to have deserted his people and brought this terrible desolation on Israel and especially on the capital city, Jerusalem. So, its theme is appropriate to our current national and global situation. It is good that within that context Jeremiah can come in with such a strong positive note as we had in our first reading this morning, beginning, “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end (3 v 22).” There is one verse that seems a bit difficult and calls for comment. V 27 reads, “It is good for one to bear the yoke in youth”, in otherwards to experience some hardship when young. When I was young, I experienced all the usual childhood diseases, namely mumps, whooping cough, chicken pox, measles and German measles. Perhaps that has given me some immunity later in life. In a wider sense I think that this is what Jeremiah is saying.
- Mark’s Gospel. Now let us turn to Mark’s Gospel. What a wretched time the sick woman had had. She had suffered a great deal under many doctors. Medicine has developed a long way in the last 2000 years, but still does not have all the answers. It is perhaps difficult for us to appreciate the woman’s dilemma. She was aware of Jesus’ healing ministry, yet for a woman in public to approach a man, other than of her own family, was a ‘No, no!’ and certainly not to touch him in any way, yet she had both a strong belief that Jesus could heal her, that he had healing power, and that healing power needed to be transmitted physically. Her scheme was a cunning compromise, that in the crowd, she could come up, perhaps from behind and just touch his robes. How terrified she naturally was, when Jesus called out, ‘Who touched me’. She was in danger. Because of her bleeding she would have been regarded as ‘unclean’ and to deliberately touch a rabbi was a serious sin. No wonder Mark records that reluctantly and trembling with fear the woman admits to what she had done. Far from condemning her, he responds, “Daughter your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your sufferings.” An attitude towards women that we are only now 2000 years later, catching up with!
Mark then goes on to narrate the account of the raising of Jairus’ daughter. These two accounts occur in all three synoptic gospels, Matthew, Mark and Luke. One may consider the event an equivalent of the raising of Lazarus in John’s gospel. Jesus’ strict instruction to Jairus, his wife and the three disciples, who had accompanied him, not to tell anyone about the event may seem surprising. You may feel that he had tried to provide a cover for the situation by saying “The girl is not dead but sleeping”. Matthew tells us, “News of this spread through all that region.” (9 v 26). Jesus knew though that such a dramatic miracle would arouse the concern and even wrath of national leaders. His instruction is in contrast to that in the previous chapter where he tells the healed demoniac, Legion, “Go home to your family and tell them how much the Lord has done for you.” (5 v 19). On that occasion He was in the tetrarchy of Philip on the East side of the Sea of Galilee, well away from national leaders, whereas in today’s events he has returned to Galilee on the W side of the lake. Albeit not in Judah, he was nearer to Jerusalem and in an area of Palestine of greater concern to the national leaders.
- Implication of Jesus’ healing miracles. It seems to me that there are three possible responses to today’s Gospel and Jesus’ healing miracles generally:
- Firstly, some Christians might regard the healing miracles as unique to Jesus, as evidence that he was God’s chosen Messiah, or Christ, to use the Greek term.
- Secondly some Christians might regard prayer and healing as a phenomenon of the early Church, a ministry of the chosen apostles to give the Church a kick start but not applicable today.
- Thirdly others might say that with the development of modern medicine, spiritual healing has no place these days.
To the first group, regarding non-medical healing as solely proof of Jesus Messiahship, I would say that Jesus sent out the 12 disciples and then 72 disciples telling them to preach this message, “The kingdom of heaven is near. Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons” (Mtt. 10 vv 7, 8). Then, when he sends out 72 disciples, he tells them, “To heal the sick and tell them that the kingdom of God is near you” (Mtt. 10 v 9).
To the second group I would point to Paul’s epistle to the Church of Corinth, where he writes of gifts of healing as one of the gifts of the Spirit (1 Cor 12 v 28).
To the third group I would point to the Epistle of James, where in his final chapter (5 v 14, 15) he writes, “Is anyone of you sick? He should call the elders of the Church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord.” Oil, probably olive oil, was used because of its healing properties. Here the physical and spiritual go hand in hand.
Healing today. Where does this lead us as Christians today? It seems to me that scripture and experience strongly point to a place for healing ministry in the Church today. This ministry may be exercised in direct co-operation with established medical treatment through chaplaincy in hospitals etc. For 5 years, early on in my retirement, I served as a part-time chaplain in the Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells Health Trust, mainly at the Kent and Sussex Hospital in Tunbridge Wells but also in Pembury Hospital and occasionally in Maidstone Hospital. I had conversations with a great variety of patients as I went round the wards and generally, I offered to pray for the person I was visiting. This was nearly always accepted, even in the case of a Muslim. We had a sizeable chaplaincy team with a full-time ordained chaplain and many lay volunteers, one of whom was a doctor. We always had at least one chaplain available, day and night. There was one amusing incident where the doctor had been seeing a patient. She then said to the doctor, “Now I would like to see the Chaplain”. “Yes, I am right here” the doctor responded. The patient had great difficulty in understanding that a doctor could also be a chaplain. There is of course a place for healing ministry in the local church. Clergy and lay ministers have the opportunity in visiting people at home to offer to pray with and for people. There is of course no reason why any of us should not pray with and for friends and acquaintances. Each Sunday we pray for the sick. It is not appropriate, nor is there time to speak of the particular needs of individuals. Let us though consciously pray for these people believing that God will work in their lives. Perhaps you could remember one name and pray at home during the week for that person. Whilst touch and physical presence can be valuable, the work of the Spirit is not confined. Jesus healed by a remote word. Some churches have an opportunity for specific individual prayer, perhaps in a side chapel so that people returning from receiving communion can receive prayer. Not every local church has members with gifts of healing. My gift is more aligned to healing of church lightning protection systems! That must very definitely be aligned with science, and engineering! But as shown in my stole I recognise that I exercise that gift under the hand of God. In conclusion let us develop our belief that our risen Lord Jesus is at work through his Church to redeem, heal and renew us as we seek to serve him.
I finish with 3 verses from Psalm 103, verses which we said at Morning Prayer on Tuesday, the day on which Jenny Hopkins was licensed as a lay minister.
“Bless the Lord O my soul, and all that is within me bless his holy name.
Bless the Lord, O my soul and forget not all his benefits;
Who forgives all your sins and heals all your infirmities.”