Healing By Touch

Healing by touch is something we often see in Scripture, and today we hear about it two times in the Gospel lesson. First Jesus is on his way to heal the daughter of Jairus, leader of the synagogue. On his way, he finds the crowd pressing in on him, those who love him and want to be close to him and touch him, possibly for their own healing. But one such touch is revealed, and it is a woman who'd had a hemorrhage for many years and who had gone to many physicians to be healed. You can imagine the desperation in her when you realize that a woman in her condition would have been seen as ritually unclean by the synagogue. Anyone with a flow of blood was not allowed to enter the synagogue and was often kept at a distance from others even in their own community.

Separated from many, you can imagine what this woman felt and how important it was for her to touch Jesus. What we hear about in that particular passage is the amazing faith this woman has, that as she reaches out and touches Jesus she feels within her own body the healing of her disease. And now not only has she been healed from this disease but, because of that, she will be restored back to community again, the community of her household and her faith community. So this was a multi-faceted healing for this particular woman that began with touch. And in this case, it wasn't even Jesus touching her, it was her reaching out to touch him. There is great symbolism and power that I will get back to in a moment.

In the second healing in this same passage, Jesus gets to the house of Jairus' daughter, but she has already died and everyone there is very upset. Jesus questions them, knowing what he will do. "Why are you crying and weeping? She's only asleep." And Jesus gets the sort of response that we might give if someone were to die in our presence and, grieving for that person someone said that he or she is only sleeping. We might laugh. But Jesus being who Jesus is, and showing us about God's desire for us to have healing and fullness of life, walks into that room with the mother and father and a couple of his disciples and he takes her hand, touching her, and tells her, "Talitha, cum" ('little girl, get up'). And immediately, the Scripture says, she got up. And it says that she was a twelve-year-old girl. I'm not sure why, but we can imagine the grief of the parents over losing a child. And yet Jesus is able to, by touch and by his words, call her back to life.

These are two powerful stories of healing and the type of power that Jesus wielded as Savior. We see them too as stories that show the authority of who Jesus is through these particular passages. But more poignantly for us today, it is the power of healing touch. This time it was Jesus who reached out to touch this little girl who could not reach out to touch him. In the story before (it's actually an interlude in the story when Jesus is on the way to heal the little girl), this woman reaches out and touches Jesus, and she also is healed. And Jesus knows it because he sensed that power go out from him to heal her. But significantly, she was reaching out because she wanted to be healed. And it was by touch, which was part of that healing. And then Jesus also tells her, "Daughter, your faith has made you well." So there were two aspects to that healing, but one important one was her reaching out.

During the children's sermon, we talked about what things they can do for someone who needs healing. And that type of healing could be from sickness and disease, it could be from catastrophe, it could be from depression or sadness, or just general hopelessness. It could be for someone who is in the midst of major conflicts in life and can't see a way out. We need healing from those things too. But interestingly, when I talked to the children, they said, "Well, if someone's sick, you give them medicine." "You take care of them." "If someone is sick, you pray for them." Sometimes the Sunday School kids make cards to send to those who are ill. And even though the children aren't literally there holding the hand of that person, those who have received the cards have been touched and their spirits have been made well again when they sense that love coming from the children.

But one thing we didn't talk about with the children was literally holding someone's hand, the healing power of touch. And if we were to discount what the healing power of touch means in a spiritual sense, we would really be missing something here. In a few moments, we will invite those who wish to come forward to receive anointing with oil and have hands laid upon them and be prayed over by elders and deacons of the church, which is very Scriptural. It is about communing with each other through touch, through prayer. And God touches us through each other. The simple offering of a touch of friendship and caring or desire for someone to be healed is a very powerful touch, even more so when it's followed by prayer.

As I have met with very ill people in the hospital, many have reached out for my hand when we prayed. As a chaplain in a nursing home sitting with a dying resident telling me about a conflict with a sibling that kept them separated and not speaking for twenty years, I can tell you what it meant when the sibling walked in the door and grabbed their hand and said that those things didn't matter and that they were sorry. There was such healing in that moment for that person at the time of their dying. Their spirit was so lifted and at peace from that experience of touch that it is something that I will never forget.

So think about how the power of touch has brought healing to you in your own life and then consider offering healing to others in the form of prayer and through the love of Christ in the church. How much fullness of life that can bring to us, how much healing there can be, for I doubt there are any of us here who don't need healing from something. But clearly today's Scriptures are telling us that God wants us to be healed and made whole in the ways that are possible. Now, we may not be able to experience the same physical healing from disease or death that we read about in Scripture, but that doesn't mean that healing in some way does not take place. God's wisdom extends to doctors and nurses. And I hope God is sending more wisdom to them every day because I see medical improvements happening all the time. And God is part of that. Let us not discount that. And that is the job and calling of doctors and nurses and technicians and those in the medical field. God is gifting them with that wisdom.

As Christians, we are called to offer a hand in Christian love, to offer prayers for each other, and to let each other know that we are loved, not only by God but by each other, and that we support each other in that time. That offers a tremendous amount of healing. So let us not discount what our calling is from Christ, and let us prepare ourselves through the Spirit and through prayer to be healed and made whole again.

July 12, 2009

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