If any of you are suffering, they should pray. If any of you are happy, they should sing. If any of you are sick, they should call for the elders of the church, and the elders of the church should pray over them, anointing them with oil in the name of the Lord.
James 5:13-14 (CEB)
Oil is not medicine, elders are not doctors. Yet there is something extremely powerful about gathering and calling on God at times of illness. Oil becoming the sign-act of the Spirit’s “healing” ministry.
Healing is not curing. Healing is about being made whole, about mending that which is broken. Curing on the other hand is a remedy, getting rid of one’s physical illness.
What the church proclaims is that God promises to heal. We gather together and lift up the needs of others because we believe in the promise of restoration, of being made whole. We understand that sometimes our being made whole might not include us being cured of our illness. In fact we know that someday we will all die, our physical bodies unable to cure mortality. Death in the Christian tradition becomes the agent of final healing, final restoration, final wholeness, we call it resurrection!
There are those that will be cured along the way. Our prayers for healing include our physical frailties. We trust that at times we do find ourselves being made whole from illness and disease. Each time this takes place, just like it does in scripture, we glorify God for it is God who has made it possible.
I am thankful for the continued development of treatment methods. Doctors, medicines, and therapies allow us to live longer, healthier, and more productive lives. All of these things are God given gifts of reason that have allowed for advances in our understanding of the human body. Each time I visit someone in the hospital I am thankful that these advances are available and that people are able to be made well.
In the midst of that technology I still stop to acknowledge God’s presence in the healing process. I pull out my oil stock and do what has been done for a few thousand years in the Christian community. I anoint the person with oil and ask for the Spirit’s presence in their life. Thanks be to God!