I have a small confession. One of my biggest fears related to church is visiting a new church or group on a day where they are doing communion. I grew up in a church environment where communion was going to happen the same everywhere, every Sunday–the bread plate would be passed, followed by the grape juice plate. Not only will things happen in the same order, but the bread (crackers) will taste the same and the same brand of grape juice will be used every time. Some places, you have to get up and go to the front. There might be a certain way to hold your hands to receive the bread/wafer, or certain things you are supposed to say. It can be very nerve wrecking. And, what’s up with all these different names? The Lord’s Supper, the Sacrament, Communion, Eucharist, etc. I feel you can learn a lot about a church or group based on the language they use around communion.
Last night, I went to a service held at an Episcopal church. I was going to hear someone speak, and so I did not expect for them to do communion. This event was very intimate. For the Eucharist service, we were “feeding one another” by passing the plate of wafers and handing a wafer to the person next to us and passing the cup. It was a single cup being passed, and I always have questions and thoughts in single cup situations. When you use a single cup and a priest is handing you the cup, the priest usually wipes it off before going to the next person. So, when it was passed to me, I wasn’t sure if I was supposed to wipe or not…it is a little bit of an awkward situation. The other thought I had was “FLU SEASON!!!!” However, that though was quickly followed by, “Well, good thing there is healing in the Blood…” I later realized I could have avoided both the awkwardness and flu if I had dunked my wafer.
So, the title and those last two paragraphs are all to place you at that service last night so I can say what I really want to say. So, last night is part of a series this particular group is doing on healing. An Episcopal priest, who did his Ph.D. thesis on healing, spoke. I was pleasantly surprised. I’ve heard a lot of teachings on (physical) healing, and I feel he had something to say that those in the healing movement need to hear. In the healing movement (think IHOP, Bethel, Healing Rooms, etc), it really feels like they often teach that the physical healing is the sign of the answered prayer, when it doesn’t happen keep praying (Jesus had to pray 3 times, so we at least get three times), and if someone doesn’t get healed, chances are you did pray right/have enough faith (OK, they don’t actually teach that last one, but you do feel you’ve done something wrong if you pray and the person doesn’t get healed). There is so much pressure put on seeing that physical healing, or at least that is what my experience has been. I know part of that emphasis is to help build people’s faith, but I think there has been too much separation of physical and mental/spiritual/emotional healing. They are very often related.
So, this priest (I never did figure out what his name was…Cain? King?), who has seen people be healed, made the point that you never pray in vain. Healing always happens when you pray for it. If someone isn’t physically healed, the healing occurs somewhere else. He also spoke about the healing ministry of the church. I think he was right in making the point that one of the most important roles of the church is to be a place of healing–physical, spiritual, emotional, all the -als. It should be a place for the broken, the abandoned, the rejected, the sick, the hungry, the prisoner. It should be a place where people feel welcomed, where people are able to be themselves instead of wearing mask. People should be able to be open about their past and/or current life and not fear (unjust) judgment. For example, think about how many churches have treated the LGBT community. Whether or not you feel homosexuality is a sin should not affect your ability to love someone or to be someone who brings light and healing. If the person in question suffered from addiction, we would welcome them with open arms, but if someone is gay (gasp!) the church keeps them at arms length. Or, if someone committed a (big) crime, suddenly they no longer deserve a second chance. I’m sure you can think of other examples. We have become very particular about who deserves love, forgiveness, healing, and restoration and who is welcome into our buildings, groups, and lives. Why can’t we bring healing to all? Jesus certainly did.
A common excuse we give is that we will be made dirty, “those” people will be a bad influence on us, if they come hear, people will think its OK, etc. We have all these reasons as to why we shouldn’t hang out with certain people or invite them into our churches. (It’ll be bad for the children). Shouldn’t we stop and look at the people Jesus hung out with, the people he ministered to the most? Yes, he had his inner circle, but look beyond the disciples. What do we find? Prostitutes, tax collectors (liars and cheaters), in general, the “unclean” and rejected. Shouldn’t we do the same? Shouldn’t we be going into the darkest places and bringing light? Shouldn’t we be storming the gates of hell? We’ve already been promised the gates of hell will not prevail–we’ve been promised we can knock them down! There is always darkness, and the gates are easy to find–people have gates in their hearts, there are gates on the streets, there are gates in our communities, there are gates anywhere Christ is not the center. Through His authority, we have the power and the right to knock the down. Permanently.
So, what are we waiting for? What gates can you, your community groups, your church knock down? What stops you from picking up the ramming rod? What stops you from loving? What stops you from being a light in the darkest corners?