Sunday Evening

img_church_3In October 2009, Carmel Presbyterian Church began a new kind of service on occasional Sunday evenings, which is called a Service for Healing and Wholeness.  A Service for Healing and Wholeness is not a new activity for the church.  Healing services are an ancient and accepted practice.  Numerous prayers for healing are as old as the Bible itself.

The disciples, following Jesus’ example, anointed the sick and prayed for healing, Mark 6:7, 12-13.  Scripture invites us to pray for healing.  The book of James, for one, states that “If anyone is sick, call the elders and pray for that person and anoint that person with oil in the name of the Lord.” (James 5:14).  In Biblical times, oil was a symbol of God’s healing properties.  As Christians, we believe Jesus is the physician of our souls. We look to his healing strength that reaches to every level of our being.  Every Sunday morning in our worship we pray in some sense for healing.  We pray for those who are ill and hospitalized.  We pray for God’s care and comfort, but we also pray for God’s healing.

The Presbyterian Church has been promoting Services for Healing and Wholeness for many years.  The PC(USA) Directory for Worship reminds us that “Healing was an integral part of the ministry of Jesus which the church has been called to continue as one dimension of its concern for the wholeness of people.  Through services for wholeness, the church enacts in worship its ministry as a healing community.”

This service is open to all and is not restricted just to those desiring healing for themselves or for others of special concern to them.  The vital element of worship in the Service for Healing and Wholeness is prayer, since this is essentially a time of waiting in faith upon God. Thanksgiving for God’s promise of wholeness, intercessions and supplications will be offered. Time for silent prayer will be provided, as well as occasions for prayers spoken and sung.  These prayers are a response to the Word read and proclaimed, as we announce the gospel’s promise of wholeness through Christ.

There is also “enacted prayer” in the form of the laying on of hands and anointing with oil. (see James. 5:14 above). At a specific time in the service, people approach the minister or elder for healing prayer.  He or she may offer a specific request for healing, or may present herself or himself in silence. The minister or elder places hands on the person’s head and says a brief blessing appropriate to the request.  The minister or elder would then dip a thumb into oil and make the sign of the cross on the forehead of the one being anointed.

Oil (usually olive oil mixed with other aromatic oils) served a variety of ritual purposes in ancient Israel and Christian tradition.  In addition to being a sign of health and healing, it represented the mark of leadership and the seal of the Spirit (as in the sacrament of baptism).  James 5 illustrates the practice of anointing with oil as a symbol of healing prayer in the earliest Christian communities.  Contemporary liturgies for healing prayer, including the laying on of hands and anointing with oil, are provided in the Presbyterian Book of Common Worship.