Service in St John the Baptist Clontarf for The Church’s Ministry of Healing: Ireland
Saturday May 21st 2022 3pm
Sermon preached by the archbishop Michael Jackson
“Jesus said again, Peace be with you! As the Father sent me, so I send you.” (John 20:21)
Today we gather for a Service of Thanksgiving and of Remembrance for the work of The Ministry of Healing, not only in this diocese but throughout the Church of Ireland. And we do so on the ninetieth anniversary of our foundation. In this thanksgiving, we remember those who on countless dark evenings and in countless small corners have prayed for the sick and for those who have asked for prayers for their healing. Only they know the distresses to which they are inviting God to respond.
Those same individual prayer-s have instinctively widened their prayer to pray for the needs of the world and its peoples – in the spirit of wholeness and healing together – and who would not wish to offer the embrace of God to the peoples of Ukraine and of Russia today and to all other peoples remembered and forgotten in similar plight the world over? God’s healing is boundless and only waiting to be invited to act. Who are: the sick? They are people who as individuals are known to other people as individuals. They are people for whom other people stop what they are otherwise doing in order to care, to remember before God and for whom they want to share their hope, whatever the future may hold. But you will go on to say: Hope for what? I reply: Hope for healing and what is more than that: healing that may or may not result in physical or mental or spiritual cure, but which always expresses itself in care. Healing and cure are not the same thing. But the assurance of Christian Healing constantly is that it will result in a closer walk with God among those who care for the one and the many who are sick and in need and for the myriad of individuals who have asked for care and prayer.
We rest in the Season of Easter. We read in the rapidly moving chapter 20 of St John’s Gospel of two particular types of healing. One involves no touch whatsoever, Mary of Magdala; one involves close touch and the invitation to dig deep more than once, Thomas the Twin. Both at the same time and in the same spiritual movement involve The Risen Lord, and that is the point; and that is why it is good to hold this service of thanksgiving in The Season of Easter. This is our point of connection. This is our focus of hope. This is our real presence of Christ Jesus the Healer risen and among us. Healing, in our context of embodied faith, always involves the holding together of the body of Christ and the body of humanity, Passion and Resurrection, Creator and creation. Jesus asks Mary to refrain from touching him; he is still in an in-between state and needs to be left to ascend. Jesus asks Thomas to touch him and to plunge his finger into the hole made by the soldier’s spear in his side, to look at his hands and to make a very particular connection of faith in the physical. We have no option but to go with the scriptural flow of contradiction. Spiritual healing involves both not-touching and touching. Both of these very vivid pictures in tandem take us to the heart of healing: what it is to be transformed, each of us differently, by meeting The Risen Lord Jesus who carries beyond the grave his experiences of our life and gives back again to us those experiences for our experiencing transfigured by Passion and Resurrection. In so doing, he transforms and heals our on-going life.
Recently, I was at a residential meeting to do with theology in the Four Anglican Provinces of these islands and one of the participants who had expected to be present was unable to do so because she had to take her husband to hospital to have a particular eye procedure and then needed to get him home and keep tabs on him. There was no pre-assured sense of how the procedure would go. It might not have worked. The procedure was successful and the participant who could not come to the meeting was able to join us by zoom from home. A devout person who is also a medical doctor who was present at the meeting said, totally unselfconsciously: Yes, Tom has received a miracle. In our generation, as in previous generations but now with a very particular urgency, an urgency of honesty, of credibility, of breath-taking advances in medical science and of lived experience, we need to face the active relationship between the spiritual and the medical: healing relates to both, science and spirit relate to one another. I found this a wonderful thing to hear when I heard it said at the conference. Many of the happenings that we and others have by custom described as miracles are carried out, both routinely and in emergencies, by medical personnel and by the advances in medical science. And such insights and appreciations are essential for our generation to speak out boldly in commending The Ministry of Healing with all of its integrity, all of its rich history and all of its human and divine hopefulness – and to make and to hold the connections between both with confidence and without embarrassment.
Before the Season of Easter passes us by completely, let us harness what it is to accompany, what it is to connect God with those who seek healing. Let us go further and let us offer ourselves as agents of healing to others. After all, this is our commissioning as disciples of Christ the Healer and the Teacher and the Giver of Life. I am not saying something trite, such as: Anyone can pray, anyone can heal. What I am saying is that, as children of the Resurrection, as people of gift and adventure, we need to want to take the peace that Christ Risen brings to his disciples then, as recorded in St John chapter 20, into the world now. When I worked in St Finbarre’s Cathedral in Cork, I remember going to visit a parishioner who had to have a cataract removed in the Cork University Hospital. This was a major outing for this lady and she faced it with fortitude and faith. While I sat with her, I simply let her tell her story. And I remember what she said: I will never forget what it was like when they pulled away the patch and I could see clearly the light once again. This faithful parishioner, with whom I celebrated Holy Communion monthly in her home in the flat of the city, had grasped the connection of light, miracle and medicine. God inhabits the totality of our world as its creator. God inhabits the totality of who we are and what we do. We have no need to collude with any stand-off between religion and science when it comes to healing. The Prayer Book speaks in a simple phrase of: patient continuance in welldoing … In its original context, it relates to Christian citizenship. We can give it voice in Christian healing as another expression of: patient continuance in welldoing … So many of those whose loves and instincts we celebrate today have done just this without fuss or fanfare throughout their times of association with The Ministry of Healing. We are called and commissioned by our baptism to do the same.
In this church dedicated to St John the Baptizer, I give thanks with you for the Ministry of Healing and, in the words of The Collect for St John the Baptist’s Day, I encourage you as that prayer encourages everyone at the mid-point of the year, June 24th to take up this charge:
… after his example constantly speak the truth, boldly rebuke vice and patiently suffer for the truth’s sake. This is a truth of faith, a truth of hope, a truth of justice, a truth of healing that sets us free to continue to prepare the way of the Lord in our time and in our place.
“Then Jesus breathed on them, saying, Receive the Holy Spirit!” (John 20:22)