The Healing Power of Jesus
July 1, 2012, Trinity Chapel, Kennebunk Beach, Maine
The Rev. Dr. Leander S Harding
Last week we heard the question to which the entire Gospel of St. Mark is the answer, “what manner of man is this”? Who is Jesus? Is he a teacher, a prophet or a good and holy man with an especially well-developed God consciousness – an idea very popular in the 19th century and which reappears from time to time as the latest thing – or is he the long-awaited Messiah, the anointed one, the Savior, Christ, the only begotten son of the eternal Father, both Son of Man and son of God, fully human and fully divine?
Throughout these early chapters of the Gospel, St. Mark, writing down and organizing the memories of St. Peter, is recounting Jesus’ deeds of power. Power such as only God has. He casts out evil and pushes back the realm of darkness. He sets people free from the evil forces that oppress them. He has power even over the destructive forces of nature. He can heal. He even raises the dead.
These deeds of power which St. Mark records are testimonies that the man from Nazareth is the Christ of God – the heavenly Savior.
The gospel this morning brings together a story about Jesus raising the dead and a story about miraculous healing, and brings to the fore the Bible’s understanding of sickness and death, and of healing and life.
As the reading from the Apocrypha says this morning (the Apocrypha are books of the Bible that are regarded as sources of wisdom but not considered the revealed word of God in the same way as the canonical books), death and sickness are not by God’s intention. They exist because of the rebellion of sin. The devil was the first rebel. An Angel, he thought it better to rule in hell than serve in heaven. Our first parents followed him into this rebellion. When human beings did this they turned away from God, against each other, and in upon themselves. There are many sins but the root of them all is this turning away from God. This is the original sin and it touches us all. To be thus cut off from God is to be cut off from the source of our life. The Father sees his children threatened by evil within and without, threatened by sickness, overwhelmed by suffering and without hope in the face of death, and he sends his son, who though he was rich, as St. Paul says, became poor so that we might become rich and be healed and made whole physically, morally, emotionally and spiritually. This he does by repairing the break with God from God’s side. He turned us back to himself and back to the source of life itself with love. He breaks through the hardness of the human heart with deeds of love culminating in The deed of love – the cross – which looks weak but is the power of God and the wisdom of God, the power of the resurrection, the power that heals and brings the dead to life.
Sin has created a chasm between us and God. We cannot bridge this chasm from our side. The Father in his mercy bridges it from his side. The bridge is the cross of the Savior. It is a bridge of seeking, searching and sacrificial love.
Christ has come to restore all things. In the fullness of all time when he shall be all in all, this means the end of sickness and death. In the meantime we have in the sacraments of the Church a down payment on the kingdom which is coming. Among these is the sacramental rite of healing. In this rite the church on earth prays that God’s will, will be done on earth as it is in heaven especially in the healing of the person for whom we are praying.
In just a few moments when Communion is distributed, I am going to offer an opportunity for those who wish it to receive the sacramental rite of healing. Let me tell you what will happen and what it means.
I will lay my hands on the head of the person desiring healing prayer. You may desire prayer for physical healing or emotional healing or spiritual healing. It is also possible to receive the sacramental rite as a form of intercessory prayer. You may be holding in your heart a friend or a member of your family that particularly needs healing. As I lay my hands on your head as a representative of Christ and of the prayers and his whole church I will say, “I lay my hands upon you in the name of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ beseeching him to fill you with his grace that you may know the healing power of his love.” After the laying on of hands I will make the sign of the cross on your forehead with oil that has been blessed by the Bishop for healing prayer. Laying on of hands and anointing with oil for healing are part of the ancient practice of the church according to the letter of St. James. As I make the sign of the cross on your forehead I will say, “as you are outwardly anointed with this holy oil so may our heavenly Father grant you the inward anointing of the Holy Spirit.” The sacrament is an outward and effective sign of an inner and spiritual grace and the grace for which we pray in this sacrament is the grace of healing.
Of course there is no question of any competition between healing prayer and the medical arts. God is the source of all healing. He is the one who has put the healing powers in nature. He is behind all the medicines. He is the giver of the gifts of intelligence and skill to the doctors and nurses and health professionals. He is the source of their knowledge and he calls people to the practice of these vocations. He gives the heart for healing which makes for the true practitioner of medicine.
So there is no competition. The sacrament is another avenue for God to bring us his healing, especially as it flows very directly from the one who has such healing power in him that he could raise the dead and to but touch the hem of his garment was to be made well. When the church prays this prayer, it is not trying to convince God to do something that he does not want to do. God’s desire is for healing and for this reason he has sent his Son. As the prayer says, it is a way for us to know the healing power of his love. This is the power of the cross and the resurrection. This is the power that reconnects us with our Father which art in heaven who is the source of our life and our help and our salvation – our hope in this life and for the life to come.
How are we to understand the role of faith in healing? We should not think healing is a reward for believing. Healing is a form of God’s grace and one of the essential characteristics of God’s grace is that it is always completely undeserved. The grace of God comes not as a result of anything that we do. We do not earn it. We receive it as a gift from the Father of mercies. In the Scripture today, Jesus says to the woman who was cured of the issue of blood, “go your way; your faith has made you well.” He also says to Jairus, “only believe.” Faith has a role but it is not the role of doing something that earns us something.
Faith is what brought these people to Jesus. Faith opened them to him. Faith is the means by which we reach out and make our own what God has done for us in Christ. Faith is always in spite of doubts and reservations. It is following and clinging to God and Jesus Christ nevertheless. You do not know if the life preserver will hold you up but you put your weight upon it nevertheless and find out that you are saved. So it is to lean on Jesus and discover that you are held up by the everlasting arms.
As a result of the church’s sacramental rite of healing, I have seen spectacular miracles and many more very quiet ones. I have seen people cured of serious illness without any further medical treatment. I’ve also seen over and over again the medical treatment go unexpectedly well and the time of recovery shortened. We need to remember that all cures whether they come from medicine or prayer or what is more common the combination, are temporary. We will all die. But the healing of the rift between us and God, that is forever and makes us more and more ready for the day when indeed his will shall be done on earth as it is in heaven and he shall wipe away all tears, and sickness and death shall be no more. Let us not miss out on the Father’s desire to give us this day our daily bread and give us this day a taste of the life of the world to come and therefore trust in him. Amen