I preached four times this weekend, during the “Great Three Days” worship service that lasts from Thursday evening through Sunday morning. In current Evangelical Lutheran liturgical understanding, this is one long service that begins with Maundy Thursday and ends with the Vigil of Easter.
This is Holy Saturday (Healing Service).
A few months ago, I attended Sunday worship at an Episcopal church. That congregation has a tradition, on the last Sunday of every month, of offering laying on of hands and anointing with oil for healing for any who desired. I took advantage of the opportunity.
It was not very different from what we do tonight. But one thing that was different was the words the priest used as he laid his hands on me. He used the words from the Episcopalian Book of Common Prayer. I too will be using those words tonight, because they spoke to me in a very special way, and I’m hoping they’ll speak to you as well.
The words went like this: 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.
Let’s break down what I’ll be saying to you tonight if you come forward for healing.
First I will say, I lay my hands upon you in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. A simple statement, invoking the name of the one in whom you were baptized.
I will then ask, or beseech, the Lord to do three things. First, I will beseech our Lord Jesus Christ to sustain you with his presence. Here I ask God to renew your baptism, to fulfill the promise that was made to you so long ago when you received the gift of life and hope. God named you “Beloved Child” that day, and in this request, I ask God to continue to dwell with you.
Second, I will beseech our Lord Jesus Christ to drive away all sickness of body and spirit. Here I ask God to heal you. To take away all illness and disease, all fear and despair. Of course, we know that Christ may not heal us physically. But we trust that he will provide faith and confidence, the courage and hope to withstand anything.
And third, and this is the part that really strikes me about the Book of Common Prayer wording: I will beseech our Lord Jesus Christ to give you that victory of life and peace which will enable you to serve him both now and evermore. At the healing service I attended in January, this was such a good reminder to me in the state I was in then, and it might be a good reminder for many of us. God wants to heal you not just for your own sake, but for the sake of God’s work. God wants to heal you so that you can be faithful, effective servants. God wants to heal you for the sake of the world. There are times in our lives when we need to hear that. When we wonder if we really have a place in the world, if we really have a role to play. When we need to hear that God’s not done with us yet.
God desires to heal us in mind, body, spirit, and also in meaning. God has a meaning for your life. A purpose. A calling. God desires to give you that victory of life and peace which will enable you to serve him both now and evermore.
Hear again the words of Isaiah:
“The spirit of the Lord God has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, to comfort all who mourn, to give them the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit.”
As Christians, we believe that Isaiah was pointing to Jesus, that Jesus is the one who was sent to do these things, that Jesus has in fact done all these things, and that Jesus continues to do this for us. And then Isaiah continues:
“They shall build up the ancient ruins, they shall raise up the former devastations; they shall repair the ruined cities.” Isaiah says that those who were oppressed, brokenhearted, and mourning will not only feel better, but they will have a job to do, and they will make a difference!
And that is what Jesus does for us as well. When Christ heals us, we are given a role to play, given a task to perform, given a calling. That is part of our healing.
As we await the good news of the resurrection that we will sing out with bells tomorrow morning, I pray that you are tonight renewed in your baptism. I pray that you will tonight receive healing. And I pray that you will tonight receive that victory of life and peace which will enable you to serve Christ both now and evermore.
Be healed. Serve the Lord in hope and confidence.