[The second of 2 parts, this message is the groundwork leading up to “A Service of Healing” — the United Methodist worship liturgy in which individuals come forward prayerfully to be anointed with oil for personal healing, to represent another for healing, and/or for repentance. Part 1 is here.]
Ripping into the Wrapping
So what does it mean that Jesus was pure, walking, talking sozo? Nothing sums it up like a portion of a kids’ book by a guy who, some of you already know full well, is my (and many of your) Christian-writer man-crush (C.S. Lewis). His Narnia is just such a stout way to get the gospel more deeply. The piece of Lewis’ Chronicles that is pertinent to us, as we wrap up and prepare for the healing liturgy, comes from one of the first books in the series (turned film), “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.” The story gets a lot of airplay in pulpits around Easter time, for its images of crucifixion/resurrection. But our focus gets into more than just that.
To set the stage, Narnia is another world, one like and unlike our own, that a group of four children from earth discover by accident. It’s a strange place — animals can talk, there are mythical creatures, and magic is at work. When the kids first find it, Narnia is covered in winter, and not the happy kind. It’s Winter without Christmas. It’s been dull and dead and frozen for a hundred years, so the Beavers tell the children, thanks to a White Witch who calls herself the Queen of Narnia.
She claims to be its creator and master, the source of its life, but she turns out to be a malevolent fraud; and wouldn’t you know she wants to hunt down and kill the children before they can rile things up against her. Because, after all, there are long legends of the time before the winter, when Narnia was vibrant and free thanks to its true king, the Great Lion, named Aslan. With the appearance of the children, there are murmurs among the creatures that Aslan is “on the move” and the dark days could be soon over.
The bit of the story for our focus is portrayed in the clip below, as the four children along with the Beavers are fleeing for their lives as the White Witch tries to capture them:
Thanks for the nail-biter, Clive (especially when you’re reading it for the first time as a kid). The sleigh turns out to belong to Father Christmas, not the Witch, and it’s a huge emotional turnabout. Even more, it’s the start of a meaningful shift in the whole story. The coming of Christmas, complete with timely and useful gifts, is the first sign that the Witch’s power is loosening. Going forward we start to see the thaw deepen — water flows and animals come out of hiding. It’s clear that Winter will end. I love it. Aslan hasn’t even been fully revealed yet, but his power is unmistakable, and he won’t be withstood.
For me, the miraculous healing moments in the gospel are Christmas gifts in the same vein. The redemptive work of Jesus, even before people realize who he really is and what is actually afoot, won’t be stopped. It overflows into visible, palpable manifestations of grace. People are fed, given sight, delivered from evil, ordered to get up to walk — it’s like they’re ripping into new presents. They’re gifts, like in Narnia, that are personal but also tools for the coming kingdom. And, ultimately, these are only the very first signs of Spring.
More to Sprung
The Messiah was on the move. But. He had yet to walk fully into death, to swallow it up in victory. He had yet to walk out of the grave to blaze the new path of the Resurrected. He had yet to commission his followers, his Body, to continue his life and service on earth. And the Church had yet to experience the Pentecost outpouring of his very Spirit. When we see the very tangible signs of healing and the miraculous in the gospel, we can imagine it as if Spring flowers were bursting up everywhere Jesus took a step (like the stuff of Disney movies or something), and it was earth-shaking. But that was only the start.
We the Church today, we find ourselves deeper into the thaw. We’ve enjoyed a few thousand years of the blooming Spring of Resurrection. We live in the great age long hoped for, when the Christ has come and victory is ever so near. I realize it doesn’t look or feel like it, at first glance, whatsoever. I realize that the challenge to any talk of healing is that we wonder where those days of the great and miraculous went. We wonder if God is just through acting that way, or if it’s something about us in particular that inhibits God’s action. Are we not faithful enough? Are we not praying the right way, or enough?
But some of those questions/feelings neglect the fact that, remember, healing isn’t just an event. It isn’t just a power wielded. It is a person. Really, God in three persons. That means, of all sources, the United Methodist Book of Worship gets it so right when it says: “The greatest healing of all is the reunion or reconciliation of a human being with God. When this happens, physical healing sometimes occurs, mental and emotional balance is often restored, spiritual health is enhanced, and relationships are healed. For the Christian the basic purpose of spiritual healing is to renew and strengthen one’s relationship with the living Christ.” Kaboom. That means that when we look for Christ’s healing we should expect his saving too, as the living sozo, but I think we should expect even a good deal more than that.
We should expect all his other traits, all his other gifts, all his challenges, leadings, and even all his personality.
We should expect him to expect to connect with us, to love and interact with our whole selves, and for us to hold nothing back.
We should expect to encounter more than expected, particularly if all we expect is curing rather than healing.
All of that said, as we prepare to come forward, prayerfully and humbly, together we are laying claim to our hope that the One who is living, breathing sozo is still alive and well and holds authority to fully heal and to fully save. In the midst of what sometimes still feels like the ruckus, danger, death and depression of Winter, we come as a statement of hope in Life. We come to declare a hope in the Spring that is still, assuredly, headed toward its total consummation. And, mostly, we come to meet with God.
All are invited, then: come, and speak your need. Or speak the need of another. Or just utter your own name, and be anointed in the name of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
[Here the liturgy of Wholeness & Healing commences. If you missed part 1, find it here.]