8 June 2008 * Proper 5A: Matthew 9:9-13, 18-26
The Reverend Kirk Alan Kubicek, Saint Peter’s at
The Sacrament of Healing
By Madeleine L’Engle
When I pushed through the crowd,
jostled, bumped, elbowed by the curious
who wanted to see what everyone else
was so excited about,
all I could think of was my pain
and that perhaps if I could touch him,
this man they said worked miracles,
cured diseases, even those as foul as mine,
I might find relief. I was tired from hurting,
exhausted, revolted by my body,
unfit for any man, and yet not let loose
from desire and need. I wanted to rest,
to sleep without pain or filthiness or torment.
I don’t really know why I thought he could help me
when all the doctors with all their knowledge
had left me still drained and bereft of all that makes
a woman’s life worth living. Well: I had seen him
with some children, and his laughter was quick and merry
and reminded me of when I was young and well,
though he looked tired; and he was as old as I am.
There was that leper –
but lepers have been cured before-
No, it wasn’t the leper,
or the man cured of palsy,
or any of the other stories of miracles,
or at any rate that was the least of it;
I had been promised miracles too often.
I saw him ahead of me in the crowd,
and there was something in his glance
and in the way his hand rested briefly
on the matted head of a small boy
who was getting in everybody’s way,
and I knew that if only I could get to him,
not to bother him, you understand, not to interrupt,
or to ask him for anything, not even his attention,
just to get to him and touch him….
I didn’t think he’d mind, and he needn’t even know.
I pushed through the crowd
and it seemed they were deliberately
trying to keep me from him.
I stumbled and fell and someone stepped
on my hand and I cried out
and nobody heard. I crawled to my feet
and pushed on and at last I was close,
so close that I could reach out
and touch with my fingers the hem of his garment.
Have you ever been near when lightning struck?
I was, once, when I was very small
and a summer storm came without warning
and lightning split the tree under which I had
been playing and I was flung right across
the courtyard. That’s how it was.
Only this time I was not the child
but the tree
and the lightning filled me.
He asked, “Who touched me?”
and people dragged me away, roughly,
and the men around him were angry at me.
“Who touched me?” he asked.
“I did, Lord,” I said, so that he might have the lightning back
which I had taken from him when I touched his garment’s hem.
He only looked at me and then I knew
that only he and I knew about the lightning.
He was tired and emptied
but he was not angry.
He looked at me and the lightning refilled him,
and he smiled at me
and I knew that I was healed.
Then the crowed came between us
and he moved on, taking the lightning with him,
perhaps to strike again.
Complementary medicine. The Sacrament of Healing. Friday’s
I know Bob. I have worked with him in an attempt to gain some understanding as to how one can be proactive in staying healthy rather than waiting to treat a symptom or disease. In the article Bob mentions the motivation for his work in what has come to be called complementary medicine – he has five young grandchildren. “Will they grow up to live in a world where you have to get diseased to get help, or where wellness comes first?” he asks.
Our story says that Jesus offers wellness to everyone. In our passage from Matthew, we witness in just a brief few verses three healings: Matthew the tax collector, the daughter of the leader of the synagogue, and the woman in the crowd. And almost every Sunday we ask God “to strengthen us to be instruments of healing in the world.”
So central is this urge toward healing in the Bible and in our common life together that in our mission statement we define our mission as “Feeding, Healing and Reaching Out with Christ.” Just how do we do that? Just how does one, or a community of persons, become “instruments of healing in the world?” Especially since there can be no doubt that this is the foundation of our baptism: we are baptized to “continue Christ’s work of reconciliation in the world.” BCP 855 So how do we do this?
One suspects it begins by accepting healing ourselves – for it is only in acknowledging our own dis-ease and wounded-ness that we gain the understanding necessary to be instruments of healing for others and for the whole world itself.
There are any number of dimensions of the human condition that cause us not only personal distress, but often have the effect of dislocating us from the midst of our community, our family and our church. This is why Matthew can be said to be healed simply by Jesus calling him to work with him and eat with him. Tax collectors were seen as collaborators with the occupying military forces of
Note how Jesus himself refers to Matthew as in need of healing in reply to those who question his choice of dinner partners. It is no accident that our catechism refers to healing of the spirit, mind and body, suggesting that our primary need for healing is of our spirits and our minds. It also suggests that there is no healing of one without healing of the other two. The world of the Bible knows no separation of our spirit, mental and bodily selves. Disruption of spirit, mind or body nearly always causes disruption of the other two. It is difficult to imagine anyone not in need of healing in one of these three dimensions of life.
And we know that any disruption of spirit, mind or body deeply affects other dimensions of our lives. Like the rudder of a boat or a ship, these disruptions lie way beneath the surface of our lives, and yet direct our lives in ways we often fail to recognize.
It is apparent in our gospel that Matthew, the woman with 12 years flow of blood and the daughter of the synagogue leader in bed at home are all in very different ways separated from the life of the community, but separated nonetheless. Here the sacrament of Holy Unction or Healing means to be restorative, and to protect us from any such feelings of separation, alienation, and loneliness, knowing that the whole body of the faithful holds us in prayer.
It is to this sort of disorder and dislocation that the rite of healing is addressed. So the object of the rite of anointing can be understood as a renewal of baptismal anointing by which each of us is christos so that the suffering and separation of sickness becomes identified as a participation in the pascha Christi. By such anointing, we recall the passage of Christ through death to life, and of the patient’s consecration to that mystery… moving us to a deeper realization of life in the resurrection.
This would be why this sacrament is most properly carried out in the midst of the gathered community at prayer, and in the midst of the Eucharist which means “thanksgiving”. We move from confession, or acknowledging our brokenness, to healing, to passing the Peace of God, to the Great Thanksgiving – all of which together constitute a modality of healing us in spirit, mind and body. It can be seen as a form of complimentary medicine – a modality that stresses that wellness indeed comes first. It is no secret that for Jesus wellness comes first.
Dianne M. Connelly is a colleague of Bob Duggan’s. She has written a book I think of often: All Sickness is Homesickness. She bases it on the notion in
Jesus lives and proclaims a profound truth: we all come from Love, return to Love and Love is all around – knowing of course that God is Love with a capital “L.” He comes to us to lead us home, to take us home. He promises his disciples the night before his crucifixion that he will return to gather us up to the Household of Love where he has prepared a place for all of us, for each of us.
Will we live in to our mission of Healing with Christ? Will we allow God to transform us into his instruments of healing in the world? Will our children grow up to live in a world where you have to get diseased to get help, or where wellness comes first?
It all starts right here, right now. With Jesus wellness comes first – before all else really. The degree to which we can accept the healing offered in the Sacrament of Healing is the degree to which we can become a healing presence for others. We come from love, we return to love, and love is all around. All of life is a homecoming, a coming home to God. For those like Matthew who get up and follow Jesus, or like the woman fight through their fears and the crowds to simply touch the hem of his garment, or like the father seeking out a release from bondage for his daughter, there is always an invitation to renew our baptismal anointing, allowing ourselves to be gathered deeper into the healing life of the community of Christ.