August 31, 2023
If any of you are suffering, they should pray. If any of you are happy, they should sing. If any of you are sick, they should call for the elders of the church, and the elders should pray over them, anointing them with oil in the name of the Lord. Prayer that comes from faith will heal the sick, for the Lord will restore them to health. And if they have sinned, they will be forgiven.
James 5:13-15, Common English Bible
This is a familiar passage to most of us, and it comes near the end of the Book of James. The Oxford Annotated Bible points out that the letter attributed to James, the brother of Jesus, is probably a written sermon. If that’s the case, here’s how that sermon starts: Count it all joy, my siblings, when you face trials of any kind.
I don’t know about you, but trials and joy are not usually things that go hand-in-hand in my mind. The tough parts of life rarely seem joyful, and I don’t think that’s just my experience. Facing an uncertain diagnosis or managing the weight of pain or sickness is not joyful. Watching someone you love slowly fade because of problems with physical, mental, or psychological illness is not joyful. Experiencing strain and tension in personal relationships that cause hurt and distance is not joyful. That begs the question: What could the writer of James have possibly meant?
Remembering that the Book of James is structured like a sermon might give us one clue, and the theme of most of the book is something we’ve talked about a lot at All Saints’ lately: community. James contains several pieces of advice and wisdom for living in community, so I think it’s no coincidence that trials and tribulations serve as the starting and concluding points for this community-centric epistle. After all, when things get tough, where do we go? To the people we know who will support us and uphold us in their faith through prayer and action.
Here is the thing about the tough parts of life: When we are at our lowest moments, those are opportunities for people to surround us with love and support. When I’ve been at my lowest, cards and notes and phone calls–and yes, the simple reminder that I was in someone’s prayers that day–have carried me through the toughest times. So maybe it’s not that there is joy in suffering after all, but the realization that we experience the love of community most acutely in those moments when we face the trials of life.
With that being in mind, we are going to be re-establishing an important practice here at All Saints’. Starting on Wednesday, September 6 at 12PM, we will have a short midday service where we will offer prayers of support and healing for all who seek them before sharing a Holy Meal around Christ’s Table. Afterward, we will share another kind of meal with a brownbag lunch. Everything will be wrapped up by 1PM so that those who need to go back to work are able to do so.
Please consider joining us if and when you are able. In the meantime, the Peace of Christ be with you.