Over the next two weeks we are going to be celebrating Advent in the Gathering Service. This Sunday, as usual, James will be playing. With the contemplative nature of James’ guitar I thought it would be appropriate to have a service of healing. I know what you might be thinking; “Boy, that sounds a bit depressing in the holiday season!” Actually, that was my first thought! But as I thought a little more, I really felt called to go this direction this week.
Healing in the modern church, as well as the historic church, has an unmistakable physical component. The historic nature was that through prayer and faith one would be able to overcome their physical limitations and be healed, as if nothing was ever wrong with them. This is an interesting proposition, but, unfortunately, myopic in its understanding of healing. In academic circles we would say that this approach would be isogetical, or taking the healing out of context to the rest of the story, making physical healing the focus, rather then what Christ is trying to get at, and that is preparing our hearts to be right with God, healing our eternal selves.
One time a few years back, I was on call for the local hospital. Two in the morning came and I was called in. It was a particularly late night for me, so I had just gone down for the night. Very tired, I made my way to the hospital and encountered a large family. The hospital was at full census, and really they needed me to act as crowd control for the family more than spiritual matters. That happened every once in a while.
As I worked to corral the family and get them to one of the family lounges, they asked if they could pray with me. So I was ready to pray, but before the first word left my mouth, the patient’s sister started, and everyone around the circle joined in. I listened and all were praying for healing and strength. However, the doctors had told me that there was no hope of recovery. The injury was too severe. Not being a doctor, it was not my place to tell the family, though in prayer, I said the simple line, “Lord, whatever may happen, you are our lord, and Jim (this was the patients name) is with you now and always, and whether you heal Jim for this life or the next, let this family never forget your love.”
Within minutes of the prayer the doctors came in the room with the two family members that were sitting with him. Jim had passed to the heavenly realm. The interesting part was that the family member who was with him said that just before he passed he got the goofiest smile. We realized that it was right about the time of our prayer.
I called the family’s pastor the next morning and told him the story. He said that though the family was faithful, Jim struggled. A vet, he had seen too much and fought God. The pastor said, “I wonder if somehow the smile was a true healing and a joy that in his final hours he gave himself over to God.”
I have thought about that a lot over the years, and honestly, I will never know the full answer. But I cannot help but think of the Joy that he felt as he was calmed by God’s love. Though he died, healing took place.
When Christ came into this world he wanted to heal us from our condition so that we could come to know, love, and serve him. But so often we get wrapped up in ourselves and lose sight of God’s love and desire. In my ministry, I am amazed at how many people wait until the end of their lives to experience God’s Joy and be healed. This is why I think it is good to take time this advent to pray for and seek the spiritual healing that we need to fully experience the love that goes so far beyond the physical.
Rev. Dr. Bryan James Franzen