Good Friday

Friday, April 6, 2012

Rev. Dean Snyder

James 5:13-16

In some branches of the Christian church anointing with oil is a sacrament as important as baptism and communion. In the Roman Catholic Church anointing with oil unfortunately became known colloquially as “last rites” because it was commonly done only when there were no other alternatives. So the news that the priest is here to anoint you was not usually considered good news.

But anointing with oil is not really just about preparing for death. There is a local Anglican church whose ads often for some reason appear on my Facebook page. They offer what they call the “Sacrament of Anointing” every month as part of their worship.

Anointing with oil is an ancient ritual, as old as the oldest parts of the Bible A special holy oil made up of mrryh, cinnamon, cassia (another spice), and olive oil was used to ordain priests and as a sort of furniture polish for the furnishings in the tent of meeting.  (Ex. 30:23ff)  Anointing with oil was used as a sign of hospitality, as a sign of being gifted for leadership (Elijah made Saul and David kings by anointing them), and as a means of healing.

In the part of the early church that James led, which was the most Jewish part of the church, anointing with oil was used as a ritual for healing and forgiveness.

James wrote: “Are any among you sick? They should call for the elders of the church and have them pray over them, anointing them with oil in the name of the Lord. The prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise them up; and anyone who has committed sins will be forgiven.”

These verses make some of us nervous today because faith healing has been misused. It has been used to try to heal people who are not sick – differently-abled people and gay people, for example. Then, when they weren’t “healed,” they were blamed for not having had enough faith. But if you read the text carefully, according to the text, following the logic of the text, it would not be the fault of the person who wasn’t healed but the elders who were praying for them.

But because being differently-abled or gay is not a sickness, this does not mean that nobody is sick.

Some of us are sick. Maybe most of us are sick ….  soul sick.

And do not be confused – soul sickness may well have physical consequences.

Physical illness is not a sign of spiritual illness … except when it is. I have some physical conditions that I know are the result of my inability to deal with stress in a spiritually healthy way and unresolved spiritual issues in my life.

There is no shame in being sick. Being sick is not a sign of sin or a lack of faith. But unresolved sin in our lives and a lack of faith can manifest itself physically.

One of the things that can make us sick is not forgiving and not letting ourselves be forgiven. Not forgiving those who have sinned against us, carrying around inside ourselves resentment and unresolved anger, can make us sick. Carrying around inside ourselves guilt and self-condemnation will make us soul sick and maybe even physically weak.

Other things in addition to unresolved anger and guilt can make us sick – jealousy, greed, gluttony, lust, not caring, invulnerability. These are, after all, called the seven deadly sins.

Let me be clear as I can be. I’ve sat with people dying of cancer who were not sick. I’ve known people with heart conditions whose hearts were purer than mine. Physical illness does not mean we are spiritually ill. But our spiritual diseases may weaken our bodies.

So today we invited you to follow the advice of St. James. We who are in positions of ministerial leadership here at Foundry will muster all of the faith within us. We will pray for you and anoint you with oil in the confidence that God will save us and raise us up, in the words of James. (This is Easter language on Good Friday.) And our sins will be forgiven as we forgive those who have sinned against us. Our spirits and souls will be healed. And our bodies may even be strengthened as a result.

I want to invite couples who are here together to consider coming forward together to be anointed. You don’t need to, but no partners or married couples can live long or well together without lots of forgiveness. So praying for the grace to forgive each other and to accept each other’s forgiveness and God’s forgiveness may be a blessing for your relationship.

We will bless the oil, and then invite you forward as you are moved to come.

Are any among us sick? Call for the elders of the church and have them pray over you, anointing you with oil in the name of the Lord. The prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise you up; and any of us who have committed sins will be forgiven.