with Revd Helen Mitchell
Today is Trinity Sunday, the day when we celebrate our God who is one God, but who is also and who makes himself known to us, in three different aspects.
Firstly, as the creator and sustainer of the universe, the one without whom nothing would be, the one who has created and continues to create all time and all material reality and who will in the fullness of time, re-create it and bring it all to himself.
Secondly, as Holy Spirit, the breath of God breathing in us, who by the grace of God, comes to us with his strength and power and peace when we need it most, sometimes overwhelmingly like a rushing wind or sometimes quietly, gently and deeply, in the sound of sheer silence.
Thirdly, as Jesus Christ our Lord, coming to be with us in our human life, to suffer all that we suffer and so redeem that suffering and bring us to God.
I hope you may remember that in Lent, in order to prepare ourselves for Prayer 48 and our theme of prayer for healing, we had a sermon series in which we looked at many different aspects of healing and prayer for healing.
I want to re-visit that theme now as Prayer 48 draws close, looking particularly at the sacraments of the church as sacraments of healing.
A sacrament, as I learnt off by heart when I was young is “an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual Grace” but a sacrament is an effective sign, a sign that is effective as a means by which God actually gives us that grace of which it speaks.
Because it is Trinity Sunday, we will look at three ways in which the healing grace of our 3-fold God is made available for us and at three sacraments that are effective means of this healing grace.
All three persons of the Trinity are active and present in all three sacraments, but I hope breaking it down in this way, may be helpful..
So Firstly, we will look at healing in and of creation and the Sacrament of Baptism
Secondly, in more detail, because this may be new to you, at healing through the Holy Spirit and the Sacrament of Anointing with oil.
Thirdly, at healing through Jesus Christ, in the Sacrament he gave us, the Eucharist.
So, firstly, Healing in and through creation and the sacrament of Baptism.
In spite of what many people think, our creator God did not set the universe running and step back, God is always working for good in and with and through the endless possibilities and permutations of his creation.
Into that creation he has poured many means of healing. The prayer corner at the moment reminds us of the many plants that have properties of healing; and our bodies too have amazing powers of recuperation, of healing themselves, which we do not really appreciate until they fail. The material world is in itself an amazing sacrament of God’s love and grace to us, so it is no wonder that particular material things speak to us so vividly of God.
In the sacrament of baptism we use water, that essential for life, without which our beautiful blue/green planet would be as deathly as all the others, without which we ourselves cannot live, to symbolise the outpouring of God’s grace on the person being baptised.
It is an individual’s first service of healing and points to how God in Jesus Christ is bringing to birth a new creation. We believe that in the fullness of time God will bring in his kingdom fully, the healing of all creation, but it starts now. Paul tells us that if anyone is in Christ, they are already a new creation. Perhaps you may remember one of my favourite songs. “I am a new creation, no more in condemnation, here in the grace of God I stand.”
Now secondly, we will look at healing through the Holy Spirit and the sacrament of anointing with oil.
In the church, we use olive oil which has been blessed, to anoint people, by making the sign of the cross on their forehead, and sometimes on their hands.
It is always a sign of God’s gift to them of the Holy Spirit.
In our country, where olives do not easily grow, olive oil is a luxury, but in Mediterranean countries, it is one of the staples of life.
Olive oil has many uses, it can be burned as a fuel to provide heat and light. It can enrich our food, it can heal and soothe skin and hair. The symbolic use of olive oil reflects some of those uses.
In the Old Testament, the kings of Israel were anointed and so the act became a sign of an outpouring of divine blessing and the Spirit of the Lord. In the gospel of Luke, Jesus introduces himself as the Anointed One, (Luke 4.18) so olive oil is used by the church to anoint priests at their ordination, and Bishops at their consecration.
It is also used to anoint people as an effective sign of the Healing power of the Holy Spirit.
This has biblical authority. In Mark’s gospel Jesus sent his disciples out to anoint the sick to cure them. (Mark 6. 13). And the letter of James recommends the practice of anointing the sick with oil for healing. (James 5. 14,15)
Holy oil is no different from other oil but it is made special by being blessed, set aside for God’s purposes.
As in other sacraments, God takes the ordinary things of this world and by his grace makes them extra-special: Holy.
When we use oil to anoint people, it becomes one of the channels by which God’s power comes into the world. It is a means of God’s grace, sometimes perhaps to cure, that we cannot know, but always to reassure them of God’s presence and to give wholeness, comfort and courage in their trouble.
In our gospel passage today Jesus tells us that the Holy Spirit goes where it will, and this sacrament is not an attempt to manipulate or confine the Spirit. But we know that when we pray sincerely for a special gift of the Spirit, this is not a request God will ever deny us, so we can, with confidence, pray for the Spirit to be present and work through this sacrament of anointing.
Thirdly, we will look at healing through Jesus Christ, in the sacrament he gave us, the Holy Communion or the Eucharist.
The Eucharist is not often thought of particularly as a service of healing, but that is undoubtedly what it is.
If we think about the structure of the service, nearly every sort of healing is provided for.
To begin with, we come to confess our sins, be reassured of God’s forgiveness and so receive reconciliation with God. We intercede for others and pray for God’s healing in our world.
We are given the opportunity in sharing the peace to reconcile ourselves with our neighbour.
We hear of the amazing work of God and of the sending and suffering and resurrection of Jesus for our salvation; and we come into the presence of Christ and receive his life into ours in the bread and the wine of the sacrament.
The Eucharist is a place of transformation where we meet the living Christ and touch the hem of his garment and are healed of our brokenness.
Sometimes we say:
“Lord I am not worthy to receive you, but only say the word and I shall be healed.”
At the Eucharist we are reminded of the reality of Christ’s sacrifice which brings victory over death.
As Christ comes close to us, we can be assured of his closeness to those we have loved, whom he holds safe for us, which can help to heal our grief.
The Eucharist speaks to us of our own eternal destiny and helps us to see our own death, that great letting go into God that all of us will face, as the ultimate healing of our life and the beginning of the fuller life of eternity with God.
These three sacraments have different places in our lives.
Our Baptism happens once only, although we can and should remember it often.
The Eucharist needs to be part of the regular rhythm of our lives, as we come before God weekly to receive healing from him and then go out into the world, strengthened to bring the love of Jesus to others.
Anointing is more occasional and is often given in response to a particular need, for a new ministry, or for healing in illness or in preparation for death.
But it does not need to be confined to those circumstances.
We are all sinful, broken people and we all have need of the grace of God given through the Holy Spirit.
On the Saturday evening of Prayer 48 there will be a quiet service of prayer for healing to which all are welcome to come, to be prayed for in silence, if you wish, and to receive anointing with oil.
I am sure that if you have not experienced this before you will find it moving and will experience the grace of God present in this sacrament.
Greg I am sure, will be happy for me to tell you that he has received the Eucharist and Anointing with oil for healing, regularly throughout his illness.
We cannot tell what physical outworking this may have had and we agreed that we are not able to express the inexpressible comfort of these sacraments adequately in words, but I would like to witness to something of which I have a growing certainty.
That these sacraments, received in faith and trust, have the effect of transforming our suffering into a sharing in the suffering of Jesus;
so that, while not being any the less real suffering, of body, mind or spirit, it becomes the suffering of which St Paul writes, through which we most truly come to know Jesus, by becoming like him in his suffering, and through which we also come to know the power of his risen life.
Here also is grace, the grace which St Paul was told is sufficient for us.
I am also becoming sure that it is a great grace for us and no coincidence at all, that we were given healing as the theme for Prayer 48 for this difficult time while Greg is so ill.
Those hours spent here in this beautiful building will be time and space for us to lift Greg again to God, as we also pray faithfully for others and for our community;
but it will also be time and space to bring to God our own grief and the hard questions, which so often have no answer, but which we can and must bring before God, so that he may heal us.
So I do so hope that every one of you will be able to spend some time, perhaps much time, here over that weekend.
Do come, come if you can’t sleep, come if you wake early, come in any odd corner of your day or night, come to pray for healing for others and to receive healing yourself through the inexpressible, inexplicable grace of God.
Further reading “A time to Heal” a report for the House of Bishops 2000
And “Holy Oils” a resource from gospel imprint