Fourth Sunday of Easter
Sunday, May 11, 2014
The Rev. Kealahou C. Alika
When I was growing up it seemed the remedy for any childhood illness was a warm bowl of Campbell’s Chicken Noodle Soup, or at least that’s what my mother used to say. She always spoke with a voice of authority.
There was the requisite visit to the doctor that usually ended with a shot in the arm and the instruction to get lots of rest. But the bowl of soup was always mom’s prescription for conquering a bad cold, a stomach ache or the flu.
I realize now that the soup was more of a comfort than a cure. But back then it was simple enough to conclude that the soup was the key to my healing and well-being. After all it did provide the nutrition needed for a full recovery.
When Fred Pratt Green wrote our closing hymn for today - “O Christ, the Healer, We Have Come” in 1967 - I was 17 years old. For Green, the hymn became a prayer for wholeness of body, mind and spirit.
Now almost fifty years later I appreciate his words much, much more in light of the changes of my own understanding of the authority we have been given as disciples of Jesus Christ “to cure every disease and sickness.” (Matthew 10:1& Acts 5:12-16) Some may protest the notion that being given a bowl of chicken noodle soup is somehow comparable to being given the authority to cure diseases and to heal the sick. (Luke 9:1)
Yet, despite the authoritative voice of my mother and Jesus, what we know is that it takes more than a bowl of chicken noodle soup and the words of a shepherd from an obscure Judean village to cure our ailments. Yes, it is written that Jesus “gave the disciples authority to cure very disease and sickness.” (Matthew 10:1) and that he “gave them authority over all demons and to cure diseases and sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal.” (Luke 9:1)
And, yes, it is also written that a great number of people who were sick and tormented by unclean spirits were brought to the disciples in Jerusalem and “they were all cured.” (Acts 5:12-16. But being given the authority to cure and heal is one thing. Being able to cure and heal is quite another.
If we hold tenaciously and stubbornly to the idea that all we need to do is have enough faith and to pray that God will cure us of all our illnesses or diseases, what happens if a cure does not occur? Would we be so quick to conclude it is because of a lack of faith or a failure of prayer?
Green writes: “In conflicts that destroy our health, we recognize the world’s disease. Our common life declares our ills.” Then he asks, “Is there no cure, O Christ, for these?”
It is likely that there is a cure for many of the diseases afflicting humankind. But even if we could find a cure for every disease, the reality of death is inescapable.
In the end Green acknowledges: “From every ailment flesh endures, our bodies clamor to be freed. Yet in our hearts we would confess that wholeness is our deepest need.”
So the prayer we offer is a prayer for wholeness of body, mind and spirit. It is prayer for us to see more clearly that we are flesh and blood and more. It is for us to see that our healing must take into account not only the physical dimension of our lives, but the mental and spiritual dimensions of what it means for us to human beings.
Many, many years ago a woman was diagnosed with cancer. Treatments were undertaken but the disease moved quickly. Within less than a year, she died.
In all of my visits with her, she was always the gracious and charming host. Before I had a chance to inquire how she was feeling, she would ask me: “How are you doing?”
I would respond and say that I was fine but wanted to know how she was doing. She would smile and say that she was managing as best as she could.
On my last visit with her, it was evident that it had become too difficult for her to eat or drink anything. There was a cup of ice on the bedside stand. At one point, she reached into the cup for an ice cube and rubbed it across her lips.
The chemotherapy treatments left her without any hair. I am not sure what came over me but I said, “I like what you’ve done with your hair.” She smiled broadly and let out a laugh.
A few days after our visit she died. Throughout her illness prayers were offered that God would heal her. Because she died, some concluded that she was not healed.
Others knew better. The healing we prayed for was not only that God would cure her cancer but that God would strengthen and comfort her – so that she would be able to smile and laugh in the midst of her pain and suffering.
Did God cure her of her cancer? No. But did God heal her? Yes.
Each year we hold a healing service that includes the anointing of oil and words of blessing. Today is Mother’s Day and the celebration of the Festival of the Christian Home. It also happens to be the day of our healing service.
The Apostle Paul reminds us in our reading from The Acts of the Apostles that the early disciples “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” (Acts 2:42)
Like the early disciples we gather to do the same. In a moment we invite those of you wish to come forward for an anointing and blessing to so. It may be for yourself or for someone else.
The oil that is used from the kukui nut which symbolizes light. The oil is drawn from a koa bowl which symbolizes strength.
In our reading from The Gospel According to John, Jesus reminds us that he came that we may have life and have it abundantly. (John 10:10) Our prayer this day is that the light and strength of God’s presence in our lives and in our world will become an abundant source of healing for all.
Come now for an anointing and a blessing. Come.