This morning I attended an Episcopal church. They offered laying on of hands and anointing with oil for healing this morning. I took advantage of the opportunity.
The priest asked my name, and laid his hands on my head, saying something like, “Michael, I lay my hands upon you in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, beseeching our Lord Jesus Christ to sustain you with his presence, to drive away all sickness of body and spirit, and to give you that victory of life and peace which will enable you to serve him both now and evermore.” He then dipped his thumb in oil, and anointed my head with the sign of the cross.
Liturgical Christians anoint with oil in several circumstances. The three I’m most familiar with are: to signify the “seal of the Holy Spirit” at baptism, to offer healing, and to anoint for service. I experienced all three this morning.
Baptism has been on my mind for a while now, particularly since the experience I had last week, described here, an extraordinary vision of what baptism looks like to me. I’ve been hoping to receive some further insight into what the “Lighthouse” church in that vision could mean to me.
This morning, I felt in the moment of anointing that my baptism was being renewed. The gift of life, the gift of hope that I’d received forty-one years ago was being renewed once more. This oil was spiritually the same oil used for that gift then. The gift I didn’t understand at all in 1976, because I was just an infant, was being made new to me. And I felt this morning that it was God’s will that I be healed. The priest knew nothing of me but my first name, but the God he invoked knows me, the God who had given me a new name forty-one years ago: the name “Beloved Child.” And today, the priest prayed that God would bring me healing. He could pray that with confidence because he knows that it is God’s will that all of God’s children be healed, and in that moment, I felt that truth. And the specific words the priest used, from the Book of Common Prayer, told me another truth. These words are different from the words in the Lutheran rite of healing, the words I have said to so many people over the years. The words I heard this morning including these:
…and to give you that victory of life and peace which will enable you to serve him both now and forever.
And wow…it hit me powerfully: God wants to heal me not just for my sake, but for the sake of God’s work. God wants to heal me so that I can be a faithful, effective servant. God wants to heal me for the sake of the world. That was powerful to me today, because it helped me to remember that I have a place in this world, that I have a role to play. That God’s not done with me yet. I don’t know what that role is exactly…there are still lots of questions. But today I can feel that there’s a place for me, even me. Despite my illness. Despite my anxieties. Despite my doubts. There’s a job for me to do.
And that means there’s one for you too.