Are any among you suffering? They should pray. Are any cheerful? They should sing songs of praise. 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. (James 5:13-15)
When all seems to be lost, we turn to prayer. When we are broken, when we are sore at heart, when there seems to be no good way forward, then prayer comes to us as an offering of God’s mercy: a slender reed which we may, improbably, walk across to new life.
At the center of our prayers is Christ’s promise of healing: that, somehow, in ways we cannot begin to understand, the act of turning our souls toward God, of saying words or sitting in silence, or walking through the land, will mend us, both as we are with our selves, and as we are with one another. Not because it’s magic, nor because it rests in the glory of God, but because it is rooted in the broken body and the torn flesh of Jesus. When our brokenness touches his, somehow, redemption begins to happen.
My first parish was in Alabama, and I got to know there a preacher named Gates Shaw, who told me about a thing that happened in his church. He had in his pews each Sunday a father and a daughter who were estranged from one another. Each Sunday, they would enter the doors separately, greet their friends, sit down in pews that were distant from one another, pray, and then go home. They had not spoken in years.
One Sunday, however, that changed. Gates had gotten to the part of the service that Christians call Holy Communion, and he prayed the prayer about Jesus’ last night. He spoke the Words of Institution, about how we break faith with Jesus and with one another, and how Jesus gives himself to us anyway, saying, “This is my Body, given for you. This is my Blood; do this in remembrance of me.”
People had begun to come forward to get the bread and the wine when the daughter stood up from where she was kneeling, and without warning crossed the aisle and went to her father, holding out her arms and saying, “O Daddy.” And her father looked at her — really looked at her — and held out his arms in return, crying “O my child.” And they stood there, embracing one another with the tears streaming down their cheeks, right there in the middle of the church, with all the people walking around them to come to the altar, and everyone could hear the words of the liturgy all mingled with their words: “This is my body, O Daddy, O Daddy, This is my blood, O my child, Given for you, I love you, Daddy, I love you, Broken for you, O my child, I love you too, O my child, O my child, I am so sorry, O my child.”
Sometimes it happens, sometimes it does not. But sometimes is better than never.