The Healing Touch (1987) by Tim Holmes. Commissioned by the Physicians
for Social Responsibility as their annual PSR Peace Award.
“And Simon and those who were with him pursued Jesus, [because he had gone out of the
fishing village of Capernaum early morning, to pray]. And they found him and said to him,
Everyone is searching for you.’ And [Jesus] said to them, ‘Let us go on to the next towns,
that I may preach there also; for that is why I came out.’ And [Jesus] went throughout
all Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and [healing the sick].” (Mark 1:36-39; RSV)
To set the stage for this weekend’s sermon… St. Mark’s gospel begins with the Spirit of God descending upon Jesus like the enfolding wings of a dove (as the accompanying illustration tries to express) saying: “Thou art my beloved Son” (Mark 1:10-11). And with these “touching words” of salvation, taking-up residence now in Jesus’ life (1:1), he moves forth to begin a ministry of teaching and healing, proclaiming: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand” (1:15).
Note the strong correlation between Jesus’ touch and the healing it brings to our oft’ frail, human condition. For Jesus touches a man possessed and he’s healed (1:21-28). Then Jesus takes Simon’s bed-ridden mother-in-law by the hand and she’s healed (1:29-31). But how is this true for us today? How do we experience the healing touch, the coming of God’s kingdom that is “at hand” in Jesus? As we live by faith, between Christ’s first (now some 2000 years ago) and second touch (when he ushers in the fullness of God’s kingdom at the end of time) … let’s consider three basic responses.
A first way in which we experience Jesus’ ongoing “healing touch” in our life today is through com-passion (meaning “suffering with”; cf. Galatians 6:2). Paul Tournier, the Swiss psychiatrist observes: “In simply being present for the other person, in simple acceptance, comes healing – no matter how great the suffering” (The Healing of Persons). Isn’t this exactly what Jesus did? Accepting people – breaking-in from the outside – reaching-out to them – no matter their condition?
But now, secondly, where can this strength of compassion come from when we’re so banged-up ourselves?! Jesus leads us to the well-spring for this strength and renewal, as he himself seeks out a quiet place in gospel text (Mark 1:35; also 6:46, 14:32) … to pray … to stay in touch with the One who “knows our every weakness” (cf. Hebrews 4:14-16), the One who is the source of all strength and life. Yes, Christ’s “healing touch” is always there for us in prayerful solitude. And so we, with the early disciples ask Jesus where his power comes from; yes, “teach us how to pray’ (Luke 11:1-4).
A third and concluding way in which we experience Christ’s ongoing “healing touch” is through his sacraments. So … what is a sacrament? It is a means of God’s grace through which Christ promises 1) to be present; and 2) to forgive sin. As Martin Luther observes: “Where there is forgiveness of sin, there is life and salvation” (Small Catechism; cf. I Peter 2:4). Forgiveness and healing go together (cf. Mark 2:5; John 5:14). And thus, this weekend as we come together for Holy Communion with open hands, needing the healing touch of Jesus, we hear his gentle voice saying to us: “Feel my real presence here in this bread and wine … for it is my body given for you, my blood shed for you … for the forgiveness of sin” (I Corinthians 11:24-25).
The wonder and power of this sacramental “healing touch” was so moving for the ancient church father, St. Ignatius, that he professed: “The Lord’s Supper is the antidoton, the “antidote” for death (antidoton to me apothanein; see Paul Tillich’s A History of Christian Thought, p.23).
See you at worship this weekend as we gather around God’s healing touch of Holy Communion together with the “communion of saints.” The peace of Christ be with you.
Dr. John Christopherson