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Lenten Devotions from Fourth Presbyterian Church

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Today’s Scripture Reading | Acts 8:14–17

Now when the apostles at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent Peter and John to them. The two went down and prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit (for as yet the Spirit had not come upon any of them; they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus). Then Peter and John laid their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit. (NRSV)

Sometimes Presbyterians think that we invented the action we call the “laying on of hands.” We see it every year when church officers are ordained.

This scripture passage tells us otherwise. Peter and John went to Samaria and laid their hands on the new believers there, hoping that this action would further the power of the Holy Spirit in the new believers. That is always the hope when there is a laying on of hands, whether in an officer ordination or a healing ceremony. Some recipients are powerfully moved and others not so much. But the ritual act itself is powerful, and the hope for the Holy Spirit’s presence is always there.

Touch is powerful. In this day and age, we are careful when we talk about touch. We know the barriers and challenges that exist and the necessity of being respectful in the use of touch. Yet this passage has caused me to think of a time in my life when a hand on my shoulder conveyed healing and comfort. I was sitting on a doctor’s table in 1989 while the doctor spoke to my husband about the breast cancer that had been discovered. She had her hand on my shoulder the whole while she spoke. Her touch was powerful in its conveyance of care and calm.

And there’s the story of the woman who reached out from the crowd to touch Jesus’ hem. He stopped because the unknown woman’s touch caused power to drain from Jesus and he knew it.

There is power in touch when we use it well. And there is power in our ritual of the laying on of hands. Maybe it’s like an electric circuit, the Holy Spirit’s power being passed through our connection. Next time you witness the laying on of hands, perhaps you can imagine the Holy Spirit pulsing through those connections we have. But don’t forget to pay attention when someone’s caring touch causes you to feel God’s power too.

Holy God, thank you for the many ways you convey your presence and power. Thank you for pulsing through our lives and the rituals that convey power and hope, for the sustaining presence and power of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Written by Judith L. Watt, Associate Pastor for Pastoral Care

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