“I will no longer speak much with you, for the ruler of this world is coming” (John 14:30).
Parish healing services or special blessings for the sick take on an extra intimacy when the community is invited to extend its hands over the person or persons. Or, if the group is small enough, people actually gather around and touch the person while praying for them.
A friend once revealed that a decade earlier when he was in college, in a moment of careless excitement during a pheasant hunt, he had accidentally shot and killed a companion. Terrified, he made up a story that lessened his blame for the death. Years later, while participating in a training program for hospital chaplains, he felt able to disclose the lie he had been carrying. The group gathered around him, prayed for him, then lifted him bodily into the air, holding him over their heads while they sang “Amazing Grace.” It was the beginning of his healing, which included going to the parents of the man he had killed to tell them the truth about what had really happened that afternoon in a corn field.
Jesus’ final gift to his friends was the gift of peace. He knew that when the shepherd was struck, the sheep would scatter and the Prince of Darkness would rule for a brief time. They would survive the coming storm of confusion and shame only by gathering in a circle around him, the Son of Man, touching him and one another as he was lifted up. They became in that moment his body in the world, a body able to absorb any tragedy, any evil or violent rejection of God’s amazing grace. By baptism we have entered that circle, and it will never let us down.