The Introduction to the Church’s Brief Order for Healing reads:
“In its ministry of healing, the church does not replace the gifts of God that come through the scientific community, not does it promise a cure. The church offers and celebrates gifts such as these: God’s presence with strength and comfort in time of suffering, God’s promise of wholeness and peace, and God’s love embodied in the community of faith.”
Healing is a faith practice. While there may be healing without faith, there is never faith without healing. There are many kinds of healing. Some are short-term, some are longer-term. Some are physical, some are emotional, some are spiritual.
We inherit from our Hebrew ancestors in faith the word “Shalom.” Shalom means peace, and it also means healing. It is larger than simply the absence of conflict, greater that the absence of disease. It is holistic. Shalom, and its Arabic cousin Salaam, mean deep peace, deep healing, the peace and healing that pass all understanding.
Jesus’ ministry was a ministry of preaching and healing. When he sent out the 12 (Luke 9), “he sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal.” Christian life is about proclaiming the kingdom of God and healing. In the early church, when epidemics swept the great cities, everyone who could leave did so. But not the Christians. They stayed and cared for the sick. Hospitals, clinics, nursing homes and hospices across the globe were an outgrowth of the Christian imperative to heal. Even today, in an era of for-profit health care, Lutheran Services in America, the organization of Lutheran social service agencies, touches one in fifty Americans.
We are called not only to engage in physical healing. We are called to tend to brokenness all around—in ourselves, in our families, in our communities, in our world. Much of the work that pastors do is tending to brokenness in individuals and families. Much of the work that the synod staff do is tending to brokenness in congregations and communities. We respond with prayer and confession, with deep listening and communication. We respond with advocacy and action as we seek to heal a broken world.
Shalom healing is not a quick fix. For shalom healing to take place, it takes time. I think of a deep cut on someone’s hand. Without proper care, the flesh will heal on the surface, but the deeper wound will remain and fester. Only when the deep wound is cleansed and begins to regenerate can the entire wound be healed. Spiritual wounds, emotional wounds, relational wounds are like that. We can try a quick fix and close up the surface rift. But until the deep injury is addressed, it will not heal.
John Koenig, in a chapter on Healing in Dorothy Bass’s book, Practicing Our Faith: A Way of Life for a Searching People(pp.147-8) says it this way:
We live in a society that defines healing as an activity that takes place largely between patients and their physicians or nurses. Christians understand the practice of healing as something much larger than this. The central image for us is not cure, but wholeness. Drawing on our Jewish heritage, we envision human wholeness chiefly in terms of right relationships with God and our neighbors. We believe that what Jews call Shalom—an all-embracing peace that spells the end of meaningless suffering—is the ultimate reality.”
Jessica Crist, Bishop
Bishop Jessica Crist
Bishop of the Montana Synod of the ELCA