James 5: 14 – 15
Is anyone among you sick? Let them call the elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord. 15 And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise them up. If they have sinned, they will be forgiven.
The early church was whatever else it was, a singing church rejoicing in the face of adversity. It was also very much a healing and caring church. Paul and Peter both stress the need for Christians to care for one another; one of the earliest church administration guides written in the second century contains instructions on how each church must appoint at least one widow to care for sick members and strangers.
Clement, one of the early Church leaders, wrote that the purpose of the church, second only to evangelism and worship, was to ‘heal the sick, raise up the weak and cheer the faint hearted’. For many centuries the only establishments close to being a hospital were the Abbeys and Monasteries of the Church which cared for anyone and everyone who needed it and as they undoubtedly prayed for their patients they also gave physical and practical care too.
There is much spoken about spiritual healing, often derogatory in this hyper scientific age, but let me give an example of healing.
A lady who for over twenty years had suffered with ill health, she was a walking encyclopaedia on prescription drugs probably having had them all at one point or another. As her fight took its toll on her she became firstly a wheelchair user, then housebound until finally she was confined to bed yet she always claimed she was healed. Her spirit was very healthy and buoyant right to the end. On one of the last times I saw her she affirmed she was healed then added ‘I am not frightened of death, it’s all this process of dying palaver I could do without’. Healing is not just a physical thing and death is not always a failure of care.
We can give assurance to those who are ill, a hospital chaplain told me the main part of his job was to help people die in peace as that not only gave the patient confidence but also gave comfort to their loved ones.
We are called to offer practical help whenever and wherever we can, the so-called social gospel, and this has been much in evidence over these last few months in the covid hot spots.
This aspect of the faith is not a desirable addition, it is as Barclay put it the very essence of the Christian life and faith.
Social care was vitally important to the early first century church that James addressed, and is just as important today.
Lord God our loving Father in Heaven, Jesus showed us faith in action, he healed when he could, may we do the same whenever we can.
In your Mercy hear our prayer,