The Healing Power of Touch

+ A short sermon preached for a midweek Lenten healing worship service at Holy Trinity Lutheran Church, Chicago, IL on March 4, 2015 +

Text: Matthew 9:18-25

Grace and peace to you from God our Creator and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

We live in what has been called a “touch-phobic society.” Whether we are crammed on the “El” during rush hour or battling crowds at the mall or meeting someone for the first time, our culture is often keenly aware of our own personal space bubble and making sure other people stay out of it. As psychologist Matthew Hertenstein put it, “We’re not used to touching strangers, or even our friends, necessarily.” Our society is pretty wary of physical contact, and perhaps for good reason. We have been taught to observe boundaries surrounding “good touches” and “bad touches.” We are aware that people around us may have experienced harassing, unwanted, or painful touching. We’ve been told since childhood to ‘keep your hands to yourself!’ And yet, it’s hard to overstate the potential for the healing power of touch.

Psychologists have noted the importance of touch for our wellbeing. The touch between a parent and a newborn child is essential in developing relational bonds while signaling security and love. Many of us know the restorative power of a hug and may long for the embrace of a friend or family member when we are feeling down. Some researchers have even found that the touch of a loved one can speed the healing process during a hospital stay by reducing anxiety and blood pressure. The simple act of touch can be one of the most important medicines available to us.

There is a long history within Christianity of using touch for healing. In tonight’s reading from Matthew, we see Jesus’ healing of two people by just touching them. The woman who had been hemorrhaging for twelve years may have been deemed ritually unclean by the religious authorities – someone who should not be allowed within one’s personal space bubble. And yet by her faith and touching the fringe of Jesus’ cloak, she is healed. The daughter of the leader in the synagogue died before Jesus even got there, but her father came to Jesus and said, “come and lay your hand on her, and she will live.” When Jesus arrived, he took her by the hand and she was healed.

Since the early days of the church, Christians have gathered around those in need of healing using the laying on of hands and anointing with oil as described in the Book of James. In a moment, we will have an opportunity to take part in this ancient ritual. We trust that Christ, the healer of the world, will be here with us and touch us with his restorative and comforting embrace. While tonight’s simple rite may not raise someone from the dead or end a chronic illness, it can remind us of God’s everlasting love for us and Christ’s healing presence in our life.

May Christ who knows all of our hurts and pains keep you in his loving and healing embrace this night and forever more.

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