Sunday, May 12, 2019
Fourth Sunday of Easter
The Anointing of Oil and the Laying On of Hands
Instant mashed potatoes, instant oatmeal, instant coffee, instant tea, instant saimin, instant haupia – we live in an impatient world. We want the convenience of “getting” everything now.
The impact of the digital age on our daily lives has exacerbated our impatience. Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat – all of the social platforms enable communication and the sharing of experiences across time constraints. We want faster speeds on our cell phones, laptops, tablets, and computers. We want instant contact.
Is it any surprise then that when our health wanes and begins to fail, we also want to be healed instantly of our ailments? Many of Biblical stories of healing do little to temper our impatience. The story of Tabitha’s healing is a case in point.
“When Tabitha dies, the disciples send word to Peter, [a follower, a disciple of Jesus] that he should hurry up to Joppa without delay. She is already dead, yet it’s an urgent call. Is the call for Peter to come pay his respects and mourn with the people before they lay this faithful servant to rest? Or have the disciples heard about the other miracles which [Jesus] performed? Are they expecting a miracle?” (Reflections on the Lectionary, Lisa D. Jenkins, Christian Century, April 24, 2019, page 21).
“Just as Jesus, before healing someone or performing a miracle, began by having compassion, Peter [responds and] has compassion for those impacted by Tabitha and her own compassionate works. She is dead, but the evidence of her work still lives – in the material goods shown by the widows, [and] in the tears shed from their eyes” (Op. cit.).
Peter does two things that some suggest point to how his actions are in keeping with what Jesus did. First, before he does anything, he puts everyone outside the room (Acts 9:40). Jesus did the same when he raised Jairus’s daughter from the dead in the account recorded in The Gospel According to Mark (Mark 5:40).
In both instances, it is not clear why the people were sent out from the room, but it is evident that the people were convinced that it was too late. There is weeping and wailing and in the case of Jairus’s daughter some even laughed at Jesus.
Second, immediately after putting them outside the room, Peter knelt down and prayed (Acts 9:40). Like Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane who demonstrated his submission to God when he prays so it is that Peter demonstrates his own submission to God. And in doing so, Tabitha is raised from the dead (Acts 9:40).
Being a follower or disciple of Jesus is not just about the miracles we see and experience. In one sense, the healing of Jarius’ daughter and the healing of Tabitha was beyond miraculous. They were both instantly raised from the dead. Why would we not long for instant healing for ourselves and for others?
Lisa Jenkins, the senior pastor at St. Matthew’s Baptist Church of Harlem in New York City points out that being a disciple is “about allowing God to work in our lives, no matter where we are or what’s going on. Being a disciple means knowing that God is still active in our lives and in our communities” no matter the outcome or consequence (Op. cit.).
It was many years ago when I visited her in her home. She had been living with cancer for several years. We prayed for her healing but it was clear she was dying.
By the time of our last visit, she had lost all of her hair as a result of the chemotherapy and radiation treatments. She lost her appetite weeks before and all she could do now was to suck on ice cubes.
What she did not lose was her sense of humor and remarkably, her sense of joy? It was as though she was saying, “It’s been a great ride. Now, it’s time to go.”
She died a few days later. Some would later remark that God did not answer our prayers. There was no miracle some concluded. There was only death.
But it occurred to me that a miracle had happened – not the one I expected or hoped for – but a miracle nonetheless. Because you see even as death approached, she was full of life.
There was no instant healing - no instant release from death. But there was the miracle of the persistent faith of a woman who allowed God to work in her life, no matter the state of her mind, body or soul.
So we come to this hour of healing knowing that it’s not just about the miracles that may or may not happen. It is about knowing that God is always active and present in our lives. That is the hope and promise of this Easter season.
In a moment, we will invite those of you who wish to come forward to receive the anointing of oil, the laying on of hands and a prayer of blessing. Come if you wish.