love heals

This began as some thoughts about the rite of healing that we will participate in during worship on Sunday at University Hill Congregation. It will get there but it will start somewhere else. Things changed on Wednesday morning at our Bible at Breakfast group. Somehow in the conversation the topic of healing came up and Betty remembered the lyrics of a song that have long spoken to her about the healing that was possible for her disabled daughter. They are from a song taught by Tom Hunter called Love Heals: "Sometimes healing’s more than getting better; Sometimes it’s love revealed." Betty's memory brought a flood of memories back to me. Like Betty, I met Tom through a decade of summer weeks spent at Naramata Centre in the 1990's. He was regularly the music resource person for a week of programming while I was on hand to teach a Bible study course. Both of our families were with us and enjoyed each other's company. As summer staff we regularly ended up living next door to each other in East Court. We quickly became such good friends. And, with Tom's family living in Bellingham just across the border from our home, we met from time to time over the years for dinners and family get-togethers. Tom was a minister in the United Church of Christ whose ministry was one of song writing and of helping teachers to help their classrooms and students find their singing, composing voice. He had the most remarkable capacity to preach a sermon in between the verses of a song. He would stop after a couple of verses, speak for a couple of minutes about how the song expressed the gospel of God's love, and then continue singing. He understood that if he could hook gospel stories onto a song that it would be remembered every time the song was sung. On May 20, 2008 Tom was diagnosed with Creutzfeldt-Jacob Disease and a month later, on June 20, he died. We did not have a chance to say good-bye. I still miss Tom's bear hugs, his rich voice, his great laugh, his keen mind, his gospel witness and his companionship through thick and thin. When I imagine music in the kingdom of heaven I think of Tom teaching the saints to sing. It is "Love Heals" that I'll be singing in my soul when I participate in the rite of healing on Sunday.

A rite of healing is not something that I grew up with in the United Church of Canada. Now that we have been including a healing rite in worship at University Hill Congregation for the past four years or so I wonder how it could have taken us so long. I was introduced to the rite when I was a guest speaker at Lutheran Pastor's Conference. During one of the worship services at the conference my hosts offered anointing with oil for healing. I found it to be a very powerful experience to witness and to participate in. When I told the story of the anointing at our Worship Ministry team gathering we all thought it sounded lovely but didn't imagine that we were ready for such a thing. But Diane remembered. At every meeting she mentioned it again and wondered if we might try it. That is how it came to be that we did try it and discovered that, indeed, the congregation was ready for it. So now we include a rite for healing with anointing of oil on two Sundays in the year - All Saints Sunday and the fourth Sunday in Lent.

This is what happens. The rite occurs during a celebration of the sacrament of communion. We weren't sure when to include it in the flow of the overall worship service. Gerald said that it was important that it not happen before we received the bread and the wine in case we sent the message that you had to be healed and whole in order to come to the Lord's Table. The eucharistic meal is for broken, hurting people. So we decided to make the rite of healing an option after coming to receive the bread and the wine. Beyond the table, under the cross, we place three kneeling benches and three chairs. Three elders - ordained or lay - are at each of three stations. After receiving communion those who wish to receive a prayer for healing and to be anointed with oil are invited to come to one of the stations and to stand, sit or kneel as they prefer. If they have a specific request for healing they are invited to share this with the elder offering anointing who then includes this in a spoken prayer. Then, these words are spoken: "In the name of our Saviour Jesus Christ, be strengthened and filled with God's grace, that you may know the healing power of the Spirit. Amen." With the anointing oil, the sign of the cross is made on the person's forehead.

I do not know how to explain what happens in this time. The number of people who come forward is revealing. Many people participate. Many come with tears in their eyes. Most kneel, even those with bad knees and hips. It is a powerful testimony of much ache and longing. Those who do not come forward witness that there is much pain in the congregation in need of healing. Yet it is held safely, without having to be revealed in detail. What do we think is happening? Do we imagine that all manner of miracles will result? Well, no one is opposed to miracles, that is for sure. More than that, I think that we are coming to understand that in naming our need for healing we open ourselves to receiving the healing that God sends. According to the scripture reading for this Sunday (Ephesians 2:1-10) it is God's grace that saves and heals us. I imagine that in the heavenly liturgy this coming Sunday Tom will be leading a chorus of "Love Heals" and that he will stop between verses to quote Ephesians 2:4: "But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ - by grace you have been saved." And then Tom will sing: "Sometimes healing’s more than getting better; Sometimes it’s love revealed."

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