I would like to speak of three things for our Healing Celebration. First, about the consolation, the encouragement we receive from God as the healing in the midst of illness, difficulty, and anxiety. Second, about the gift of anointing which is ours to celebrate as a community of believers. And third, about healing a nation and all people who require a balm for the spirit that restores and renews.
I was educated in Grade School by the Sisters of St. Joseph. They taught us our basic lessons and also taught us to pray. One of the favorite prayers of the Sisters was for a Happy Death as they referred to it. Their patron being the father of Jesus who presumably died before his son started his ministry, I guess they just figured Joseph had that experience. Well, most of my life I didn't give much thought to praying for a Happy Death. Then my Mom died.
Mom had said through years of being a cancer survivor, a diabetic, a heart bypass patient, and other various ailments that when it was her time to go she just wanted to go. And she had the blessing of doing exactly that receiving palliative care in her last days while saying her goodbyes. This is Happy Death, I figure, but one that has little to do with day and hour of ending. What it means is to be free of anxieties and fears and allow God's time to take over. As we grow older and, hopefully, wiser we realize that this freedom is the real healing. This is what we celebrate and hope for in our celebration of Anointing and Healing this morning in our Service.
The consolation we read of in Paul's second letter to the Thessalonians is what we hope for. This letter, the scholars tell us, is the result of the recognition that Paul's early teaching that Jesus was coming in the lifetimes of those early gatherings of Jesus' followers : this teaching was wrong. Well, Jesus didn't come and Paul responded in his letters to the questions raised by the communities about death and eternity. Paul's teaching became this encouraging message of strengthening for every good word and work. Do this and receive the true Healing of a quieted and assured mind, heart, and spirit.
It is this gift we celebrate as a community. After all, God's gifts are to the entire community and not the property of any priestly class or reserved group. At Jesus Our Shepherd we invite health professionals to join with our priests to be ministers of the sacrament, to anoint their fellow members on our faith journey. We celebrate the gifts of assurance, hope, restoration and recovery in our Healing Service this morning. And we do so fully in community anointing each other, as it were, as our thankful response to the consolations we receive from God and our brother, Jesus, who heals our body, mind, and spirit.
Finally, we celebrate Healing as a balm for a nation at war and a people whose government has authorized acts which only a few years ago were recognized as torture. This morning we remember Alyssa Peterson, Army Specialist, Interrogator, and one of the first women to die in the Iraq war. Alyssa was a person who was able to study and practice new languages with some facility. She was a dedicated Mormon who prior to going on a missionary trip to Holland became fluent in Dutch within 6 months. She volunteered to serve her country in the armed services and was assigned to learn Arabic.
In her first deployment to Tal Afer in northwest Iraq Alyssa observed and experienced practices against prisoners that she did not learn in Fort Huachuca, Arizona in the Army's training classes. What she observed she called torture and formally complained to her commanding officer. For this Alyssa was reprimanded and assigned to supervise Iraqi guards. Alyssa withdrew from her compatriots, stayed at her desk, and stopped eating. Within several days, on September 15, 2003 Alyssa was found dead. The official report said she died from a noncombat discharge of a weapon. The circumstances surrounding her death may never be clear since all documents including those relating to the interrogations she observed have been destroyed.
Whatever is happening in this war, particularly in the treatment of detainees and prisoners, it seems clear that certain immoralities are being committed all around. And our nation has a different view of itself; our people ask what have we become when those who represent us and who wage war in our name resort to tortuous acts. And what is the individual soldier to do? It is a clear principle that those who are instructed to engage in immoral acts have the right to challenge the moral authority of those who command.
What gifts to this nation at war do we have as Christians? I suggest this morning that we are the people who offer Healing. This anointing we offer to one another reaches beyond our own individual lives. We pray for the healing of the spirit of all people who wage war. We pray for Alyssa Peterson, this morning. We receive this anointing in her name and in thanksgiving for her moral determination in the face of rejection and reprimand. We try to understand the loss of her to her family and the circumstances of her death. We honor her this morning as we honor all veterans who served their country on this Veterans Day.
This morning we pray for Healing : for freedom from anxieties and fears, for restoration and recovery from illness, for this communal gift of anointing, for overcoming unspeakable acts done by one human being to another, and for the Spirit that makes all things new.