St Andrew, Glencairn

Glencairn Methodist Church

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Holy Week - 1 to 7 April 2012


"Information" that heals


Humans have five sets of sensory organs - eyes, ears, nose, tongue and skin. So we can see, hear, smell, taste and touch. Information comes to us through all of these. But Protestants seems to use only two of these - eyes to read and ears to hear. We rely almost exclusively on the written word and the spoken word - reading the Bible and listening to sermons. This practice originated with the Calvinists and many denominations follow in this tradition. Presbyterian churches, in general, have their pulpit placed centrally facing the pews, emphasising the "ministry of the word", and are largely bereft of stained glass windows. (Modernising churches may be moving away from this with the ability to use digital projectors to show still pictures and videos.)


All sensory information is processed by the brain to create knowledge of one sort or another. The information that we receive from reading  the Bible and listening to sermons tends to produce what I shall call "Head Knowledge", knowledge that can be re-expressed in words, knowledge that is reasoned, logical and often devoid of emotion. Knowledge that evokes emotion I shall call "Heart Knowledge". Yes, sometimes a gifted orator can stir an audience and certainly silent contemplation of the Scriptures can lead to Heart Knowledge, but we miss so many opportunities to develop Heart Knowledge through neglecting information from smell, taste and touch. Humans need both Head Knowledge and Heart Knowledge.


The Thursday of Holy Week is known as Maundy Thursday. On this day we remember that Jesus washed his disciples' feet and shared a Passover meal with them. It was quite unheard of for a Jewish Rabbi to wash the feet of his disciples, but Jesus did, and in so doing demonstrated the nature of Christian leadership - the leader has to be humble and serve the church. There was a time when the Kings of England washed the feet of some poor people on Maundy Thursday. Not any more - they just given them "Maundy Money". And the washing of feet by the minister of a Protestant church in a liturgical setting is very rare indeed. Most people today with the exceptions of babies and the very elderly,  simply wash their own feet. But as an expression of love, it might be quite relaxing to have ones feet washed and carefully dried by another. After all, people do pay good money to be given a foot massage! And this is alleged to be therapeutic! There are other ways in which humans can benefit from being touched by another. Many churches greet worshippers with a handshake or hug, and when worshippers "share the peace" in a communion service they again shake hands or hug. Sharing the peace, though, is much more than a simple touch. It is a prayer for the other person's whole well being, and this, combined with the handshake or hug is also therapeutic. And Prayer for healing with the laying on of hands and another example of the use of touch in ministry.


At his last Passover meal with his disciples, Jesus effectively introduced the Eucharist, a thanksgiving meal eaten in a liturgical setting And he instructed the disciples to "do this is remembrance of me". Now the Jewish understanding of "remembrance" means much more than a simple recall to mind. The Passover meal since then has been a "remembrance" of the night the Israelites were released form slavery in Egypt. Participants share a meal and retell the story in such a way that they begin to experience the emotions of the first Passover in Egypt, when the Angel of Death passed over the land killing the first born sons and livestock of the Egyptians, while "passing over" the houses and livestock of the Israelites. So too in Holy Communion, those who "do this in 'remembrance' of me", will enter into the charged emotional atmosphere of the Upper Room and of the events the next day at the crucifixion. Then they will experience the bewilderment of the disciples until the empty tome is explained, followed by the utter joy of the resurrection and what it means for believers - that they are forgiven for their sins and restored to wholeness of life. They will feed on real bread and wine, experiencing the taste of this food as they ponder the wonder of absorbing the mystical body and blood - the life force - of Jesus. This experience of the grace of forgiveness is healing.


So in many ways and by receiving "information" through eyes, ears, tongue and skin, the Holy Communion has a profound healing effect on participants. Quite often a Christian will ask to be given communion when sick or dying. Catholic churches will also burn incense, thus stimulating the sense of smell. Protestants seems to have a phobia about incense and so miss out on this in worship, even though they are happy enough to burn scented candles in church for a "carols by candlelight service.


It is often said that a picture is better than a thousand words in conveying "information" delivering both Head Knowledge and Heart Knowledge. Again Protestants are more iconoclastic than Catholics, thus loosing out once again on an important vehicle for delivering information. The Stations of the Cross for example, are a remembrance of the last sorrowful events of Jesus' life, something we should ponder on on Good Friday.


God bless.



2 April 2012


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