I don’t know if there is a word or a phrase that sets your teeth on edge or makes you want to run for the hills? If you are a Northampton Saints fan, like me, Leicester Tigers would be such a word. When I was at theological college, the words ‘creative worship’ got me extremely hot and sweaty under the collar. I suspect that ‘healing’ is a word that gets many people in church exercised. It’s a scary word, a word that implies loss of control, or perhaps even unanswered prayer. Many of us will have prayed for someone to be healed from a disease or affliction, and seemingly have had our prayers ignored or unanswered. So, we have a problem with the concept of healing.
The problem is, however, that if we exclude the healing miracles from the gospels then what we would be left with is a very thin set of texts; healing was central to the life and ministry of Jesus. Okay, you might say, that’s fine, for Jesus was the Son of God, he possessed a unique set of powers that we don’t have. And this is true. But does this therefore mean that we shouldn’t pray for healing and wholeness? Does this mean that healing and wholeness shouldn’t be part of our ministry? The straightforward answer is an unequivocal ‘no.’ So, what can we do and what should be our aim regarding our healing ministry? Should it be to insist on the seemingly miraculous and to revel in the supernatural? Well, without ever wanting to downplay the miraculous and the supernatural, I am not sure that it should.
Our starting point should perhaps be to take the ‘sufferings of this present time seriously’, in the knowledge that even though they hurt, they are indeed transitory, and, as Paul suggests, ‘not worthy of the glory that is about to be revealed to us.’ Suffering is temporary, but glory is eternal. This is something we need to hang on to. This doesn’t mean, however, that pain and suffering are somehow irrelevant and less than real. Pain and suffering are what they say on the tin - pain hurts, it really hurts, and suffering saps the soul. If we are to take healing and wholeness seriously, we need to hold pain and suffering gently in one hand and glory in the other. We also need to resolve to do something about pain and suffering. In the epistle, Paul reminds us that pain and suffering isn’t limited to human beings, for he insists that ‘creation has been subject to futility,’ and needs to be ‘set free from the bondage of its decay.’ The church’s healing ministry is therefore linked to its environmental ministry, through which we are called on to be stewards of creation. Through the way we spend our money and the choices we make, we both should and can help heal ‘creation.’
Phew, you might now be thinking. That lets us off the hook with regard to human pain and suffering - except it doesn’t, for Jesus, ‘the perfecter and pioneer of our faith’, took human pain and suffering seriously. In fact, he took it so seriously that he went to the cross bearing the full weight of human pain and suffering. Throughout his ministry, Jesus healed the sick and the suffering, and he also encouraged all who were carrying heavy burdens to come to him for rest and recuperation: ‘come unto me all who are weary and carrying heavy burdens and I will give you rest.’ We need to be the sort of people, and the sort of church, which provides the opportunity for people to share their burdens and to get some rest. The church should be a therapeutic community that offers alleviation from pain and suffering in the here and now, alongside the promise of the glory that is to come.
Healing, you see, happens in community, and if we look closely at the healing miracles, perhaps the biggest miracle is not in fact the physical healing but the transformation of relationships. Healing is intimately concerned with inclusion and restoration, whereby outsider becomes the insider. A church that takes healing seriously is a church that takes equality in human relationships seriously.
A church that takes human relationships seriously is also a church that takes prayer seriously, for as we heard in the Gospel, the people ‘began to bring the sick on mats to wherever they heard he was.’ Are we bringing the sick and the suffering to God on our metaphorical prayer mats, asking that they will know the ‘peace of God which surpasses all understanding’, for this level of deep peace is the bedrock of all true healing and wholeness?
So, even as a temporarily dispersed community, lets recommit to doing four things:
- Taking the sufferings of the present time seriously and feeling them in the depths of our hearts
- Renewing our faith in the ‘glory which is to come’
- Resolving to be a hospitable community, one that welcomes all, irrespective of health or status
- Getting down on our knees – on our proverbial prayer mats – and bringing to Jesus those who are suffering in the here and now
If we do these four things, we will be a genuinely therapeutic and healing community, Amen.