Yesterday I pushed some words through my keyboard into the book review and the sermon, and I think they turn out okay (I’ll post the sermon below the jump). It made for a long day of typing, deleting, staring off into space, and so on (and the “day” didn’t quite end till “wee hours of morning,” to be exact). Today I presided at Seabury’s daily Eucharist, with special intentions for Joey’s dad and for another friend who asked for our prayers.
Immediately after mass, we headed into an all-day faculty meeting, and immediately after our faculty meeting I’m heading over to Richard Kieckhefer’s lecture. Luckily, I have leftover pasta from last night’s dinner. Then I collapse in a heap, and try to rest up some on Thursday. (It’s great to see that Pippa’s having a wonderful time in Maine!)
James 5:13-16/Ps 111/Luke 11:9-13
February 22, 2006
The prayer of faith will heal the sick, and the Lord will raise them up.
In the Name of God Almighty, the Holy Trinity on high — Amen.
Healing services scare the living daylights out of me. If I had a plausible excuse for skipping chapel on healing days, you can bet that I would be working on a book review, or an essay, or sprucing up lecture notes on Wednesdays at 11:15. Instead, I sit in the back staring intently at the saints and praying, or I come up as I’m bidden to take part in the sacrament of healing.
This service frightens me in part because it runs so flagrant a risk out outright fraud. The Dean has urged us to engage more fully with the world, apart from the church’s codes and insidery-ness; well, speaking as someone who’s very thoroughly involved with the world outside church, many people find that our claim to offer healing as a sacrament constitutes one of the least convincing aspects of our practice. Unless we water down the sacramental gesture to a mere feel-good sympathetic pat on the head, our ministry of healing entails making a great and risky claim to participate in an actual change. Our healing services oblige me to stand up for a claim that challenges the apparent realities of our daily lives, and it burdens my conscience that I may appear to be misrepresenting reality.
In part, also, this service frightens me because its scope so clearly eclipses any sense that I, as a person, have anything to contribute to its efficacy. We know that the efficacy of the sacrament does not depend on the worthiness of the minister — thanks be to God! — but most of us, deep in our hearts, will receive the sacraments more deeply, more ardently, if we sense in our ministers a sanctity concomitant with the depth and ardor with which we seek God’s presence in our life. But sisters and brothers, you know me; I live among you, and no façade of dignity can conceal from you my meager unworthiness. Not only do I risk misrepresenting the reality of healing, I risk misrepresenting myself as a credible emissary of Truth, of Goodness, of Life Abundant.
Then, if you grant that something remarkable happens in our ministry of healing, and since the power and effect of that remarkable change lies so far outside my capacities, I am frightened by my standing where God’s transforming power intersects with the lives of people for whom I care so much. You see, I do believe that something elusive but real, something we aptly identify as God’s healing grace, truly operates in the church’s ministry of the sacraments. When we stand together, sharing the sacrament of healing, sharing Holy Communion, I recognize in your eyes and your hands the signature of a faithful power that overwhelms me. The surging, seething, utterly gentle compassion of God has done great things among us, and restless, ceaseless, it will not stop from transforming our lives, our reality, until a consummation whereat we all can catch our breath to say, “Great are the deeds of the Lord! Hallelujah!”
That day lies beyond the morning in which we gather here; so we come together to study God’s deeds, to remember God’s works, to affirm God’s eternal covenant of grace. Before such grandeur we breathe deeply and admit that our wisdom begins with sensible fear before the majesty of God — and we give thanks with our whole hearts, that our wisdom ends as God banishes fear with a perfect love that transforms us wholly, sees us truly, and makes known to all people the life-giving grace of our merciful God.