27th February 2005
Lent 3: Oil of Gladness
Each Sunday in Lent we are thinking about one of the sacraments of the Church, and in particular the matter or substance which it uses, and the significance of that substance. That word significance, you will remember, includes the shorter word sign, and the definition of a Sacrament is ‘an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace’. The job of a sign is to ‘suggest’ something to people’s minds. We shall come back to the word grace in a minute, but let us think now of what the substance oil suggests to people.
Well, let’s begin at home, so to speak. Oil is something which makes other things ‘work properly’. If your door squeaks every time you open and close it, or your bicycle wheel won’t revolve properly, or your key won’t turn in the lock, what’s the first thing you think of? Oil in some shape or form, isn’t it? A drop or two of oil can work wonders (or miracles, one might say!). You can’t actually see the oil working, but you can know it is by its result. A car which runs out of engine oil is in a far more serious predicament than one which merely runs out of petrol. It will be a total wreck if not given the oil it needs!
Then, again, oil has been used in medicine since time immemorial. The Good Samaritan, you will remember, had oil in his first-aid kit. Used either internally or externally, the appropriate medicinal oil – oil of cloves, oil of cinnamon, cod-liver oil and Oil of Evening Primrose all have the power to soothe and heal the body. Healing, you remember is the same thing as ‘making whole (or complete)’. Oil in medicine supplies something that is missing or in short supply in the natural body.
Thirdly oil has been used all over the world to anoint people who have been chosen by God to do something special for Him. Kings and Queens are anointed at their coronation; priests at their ordination, candidates at their baptism and confimation, sick and troubled people as a sign that they are offering to God the troubles that are besetting them, and the dying as a sign that they are passing through death to their new status in the Kingdom of God.
Don’t let anyone tell you that anointing is just for the terminally ill. I’ve lost count of the number of people at St Stephen’s whom I have anointed to strengthen them in times of adversity, whether it’s redundancy, surgery, financial difficulty, family or marital problems they are having to cope with, or simply the prospect of having to take an exam. They have all found that the sacrament of anointing has brought them relief and comfort.
After the sermon, then, we are going to invite everyone who wishes to come forward and be silently anointed, on their forehead and hands with oil which was blessed by the Bishop for this purpose last Maundy Thursday, and will be replenished by him in a few weeks’ time. After prayers have been said over the oil, the priests will come down the chancel steps and, having anointed each other will stand waiting for people to come up and be ministered to. Just allow the priest to make the sign of the cross with his oiled thumb on your forehead, hold your hands out, palms down, and let him anoint them, and then go back to your place.
But first spend a little while reminding yourself why you are being anointed.
Firstly, what is it in you that needs making whole? Are you like a squeaky door, always complaining about something? Or is there some bad habit that you have had to struggle against all your life? Are you afraid of some ordeal, such as an exam, that you’ve got to face? Is there friction in your home or place of work? If so, offer them to God that he may ease your way with the Oil of Anointing.
Or have you an illness which never seems to get any better? Always supposing that you have taken the necessary steps to get proper medical advice (for God works through Nature rather than against it) then come forward and receive the ministry of Anointing as a sign of submitting yourself into God’s hands to make you whole.
Thirdly, just remember that you are special. God’s grace has been poured forth upon each of us individually and in such measure as He knows we need. The person standing next to you is no less, and no more, important in God’s eyes than you are. Their troubles are probably quite different from yours both in nature and degree. But the wonderful thing about God’s sacraments of grace are that they suit everyone perfectly. As with the manna in the wilderness he who gathered little had no lack; he that gathered much had nothing over.
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