Teachers and preachers are welcomed to borrow from any of this sermon essay as you wish with attribution. No further permission is needed.
Thanks to several influential 'doctors' and theologians of the earlier Church, for centuries Christians have had - in the back if not the front of their minds - some conflict about things that are holy and things that concern the flesh.
At the risk of raking the coals, let me ask you to go back in your memory banks to the introduction in the 1970's (gee, was it THAT long ago??) when the exchange of the peace became a part of the service. Some individuals were aghast that this happy, touchy-feely moment was interjected into their hallowed, even mystical experience of this Holy Sacrament.
I have a feeling that this action was never clearly explained before it was retained as a part of the service. An ancient tradition, this was the opportunity that one had - after the confession, the prayers of the people and the general absolution to go and greet NOT your friends - but in fact those with whom you had had some conflict, discomfort, disagreement or friction, or the strangers in the group - in the name of the Lord, in effect making amends before going to receive Holy Communion. One (in ancient days) would kiss the cheek of the other as a sign of peace. With the reintroduction, a simple handshake and 'the Peace of the Lord' would suffice. I have been in churches where "the Peace" seemed an event unto itself, lasting an inordinate amount of time and leaving out those people for whom exchanging the Peace was intended. To this day, however, there are those who cannot abide the familiarity of such a gesture... in church.
Let's set church aside for a moment. Haven't most of us have experienced the uniqueness of touch - when someone unwelcome brushes against you in a store or the subway, you feel very uncomfortable. When your Dad or Mom kissed your boo-boos you believed that extra special would make it hurt less and heal faster. When the object of your affection touched your hand for the very first time, there is a spark of sorts. If you have ever been struck in anger, you may feel the imprint of the hand long after the impression or bruise has gone. When your cat or dog comes to snuggle on or near you - and you pet that animal your heart rate decreases and the seratonin levels in your brain increase. There is a sense of peace and comfort.
The act of touching someone or something has significant and scientifically documented effects on both the toucher and the touch-ee!
The lessons for today each have at least one instance when one person - or God - touches someone else with a holy touch that has miraculous results. Prayer is involved, intention is involved and touch is involved.
It's no coincidence that Luke, the writer, wants to stress the importance of Jesus as prophet by recalling a similar act by the prophet Elijah. The widow at Zeraphath - who had shared her last ground meal, oil and water to make cakes before she and her son starved to death instead made Elijah some breakfast. Miraculously the meal and oil did not run out. She was pleased and called him a wonderful prophet. Despite that act, her son dies later anyway. She turns against Elijah: here I treated you well and my son has died? What have I done to deserve this?
In response, Elijah takes the son's body into his own room, prays and ritualistically lies on top of him, as if imparting some of his life force into the boy. He would, no doubt, have breathed on him, also a sign of imparting life (just as Jesus breathed on the disciples to receive the new life of the Holy Spirit). Three times he prayed that God would return the child's life to him. The third time was obviously the charm because he child began to breathe and was revived. When Elijah returned the child to his mother, the widow's faith was once again restored and she praised him saying "Now I know that you are a man of God and that the word of the Lord in your mouth is the truth. " In this case, seeing was believing.
Psalm 30 starts off with the physical intervention of God: "I will exalt you, O Lord, because you have lifted me up....... I cried out to you and you restored me to helath.....You brought me up, O Lord, from the dead; you restored my life as I was going down to the grave".
In Luke's account, when Jesus came into the city of Nain, he passed a large funeral party, wailing over the death of widow's only son. With a great deal of compassion, He looked at her directly and said "Do not weep". Instead of touching the body, he only touched the bier and said, "Young man, I say to you rise". The child sat up and began to speak. The response was unanimous among those present. Although fearful, they proclaimed "A great prophet has risen amoung us".
That act of compassionate, prayerful touch is powerful. It will often bring about healing what ails you- even when you were not consciously aware of what may have been amiss. There are special prayers for the sick in our curren BCP - prayers where hands are laid on the person with the infirmity (or on someone else on behalf of the sick). Those who lay hands on the one asking for healing need not be those of the clergy; in fact, some of the most empowered prayers occured when everyone gathered lays hands on the parishioner (or lays a hand on the shoulder of someone in direct contact) and everyone, with the best intentional for health and healing pray for the person in distress. Unction - holy oil - may be administered as a visible sign of the inner workings of the Holy Spirit to comfort and heal.
Anyone here ready to try something - for the sake of God and Science? [pause] I am going to invite each of you this week to enter into a prayer-filled experiment. It is an experiment in connecting with other people in a holy way. I invite you to engage the people you know with eye contact and making an intentional effort to APPROPRIATELY touch someone during a conversation or exchange.
For example: During the exchange of the peace, give a good handshake and look into their eyes as you say "The Peace of the Lord be with you". Mean it! At the pharmacy or grocery store, hold your hand out for the change or a receipt. Look the cashier directly in the eyes and say thank you. With a colleague that you are familiar with (and you know it would not be a violation of their personal space), shake hands while saying good morning, or while giving them a compliment, put a hand on their shoulder. If they're having a rough day, pat one of their hands and say 'hang in there'.
YES, IT MIGHT FEEL STRANGE AT FIRST. At the end of the day, see what you remember about your interactions. You might notice the color of someones eyes or their blush or their smile or their surprise or the color of their uniform.... your eyes have been opened to things you would never have noticed before because you intentionally went out of your way to make a tiny connection.
If this small gesture has an effect in our work-a-day activities, how much more powerful would it be if - when two or three are gathered in prayer - silent or spoken - they joined hands? Our hands, in and of themselves are neutral - yet if used prayerfully, letting God flow through us, they are powerful tools to a new level of communion with God and each other. In that connection we will function more effectively and intentionally as the Church - the Body of Christ.
If our prayer is pure, our outer selves will fall away and the Love of God will be tranparent and apparent to everyone. They too will proclaim, as so many who were healed in the New Testament: God is here in this place and He Touched Me.
Try it!..... you just might like it!
Copyright © 2007 K.L.Joanna Depue and DJ on http://www.geraniumfarm.org