This past Sunday afternoon, we offered a Service of Healing. It was, as far as anyone can remember, a first for this congregation. While the number of attendees was small, the presence of the Holy Spirit was over-whelming.
The service was simple - readings from scripture, prayers, laying on of hands, and annointing with oil for all who wished. Knowing some of the struggles and illnesses that face some of those who came made the service all that much more powerful, and makes one wonder why this is not a part of more churches - especailly Lutheran churches.
There are many references to healing throughout scripture (all quotes from NRSV):
Genesis 20:17 "Then Abraham prayed to God; and God healed Abimelech..."
2 Chronicles 30:20 "The LORD heard Hezekiah, and healed the people."
Psalm 30:2 "O LORD my God, I cried to you for help, and you have healed me."
Matthew 8:8 "...but only speak the word, and my servant will be healed."
Luke 14:4 "So Jesus took him and healed him..."
Perhaps the most compelling argument is found in James:
James 5:14-16 "Are any among you sick? They should call for the elders of the church and have them pray over them, anointing them with oil in the name of the Lord. The prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise them up; and anyone who has committed sins will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. The prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective."
I suppose some Lutherans might argue that since Luther was not too fond of the Book of James, that we tend to not pay it a lot of attention, but the simple fact that Luther did not remove it from his translation of the Bible shows that Luther thought there was need for these words, even if they were not among his favorites. For us, in light of the entire New Testament witness, James has a place and should not be ignored.
As leaders of the church (whether you count your elders as lay or ordained), healing is one of the task that we are called to - healing of the spirit, of the body, of the mind. We may not all have the healing power that Jesus gave his disciples when he sent them out, but we all have the power and ability to pray for one another and to provide comfort in time of need.
Some may believe that Sunday morning worship is sufficient for this, especially in churches where Holy Communion is celebrated every Sunday. There is certainly healing available through the Sacraments, but that does not mean we should limit ourselves to this. A Service of Healing allows us to offer a special time where the focus is on healing, where prayers may specific and interactive, and where friends and family members can join in and lay on hands along with the "elders."
Suffice it to say, that our first experience with this here has been so profound that we hope to find ways to incorporate this service into the life of the congregation on a regular basis. It was healing to us; it was healing to those who came. As we are always in need of healing, for some ill or anguish, there can never be too many opportunities provided for God's people to gather in prayer for one another, and to lay hands on one another, and to be healed through the power of the Holy Spirit. As the promise of Jesus is recorded in the Gosple according to Matthew, "For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them (Mat. 18:20)." We simply provide the opportunity to gather and pray. God takes care of the rest. Thanks be to God!