Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Toward an Episcopal Culture for Health Care: Incarnation

Anglican theologians have written about an emphasis on the Incarnation in Anglican thought. Michael Ramsey spoke to it in this interesting article from 1945 when he was Bishop of Durham. This is not to suggest that other Christian bodies don't value Incarnation, or that we don't value Crucifixion or Resurrection or Sanctification. It's simply a matter of emphasis.

We speak of it in two senses, really. We speak first and foremost of the Incarnation of God in Jesus Christ, God’s unique presence among us when the Word became Flesh. We speak of it by extension when we reflect Paul’s theology that we are the Body of Christ, Christ’s ongoing presence in the world. By virtue of the Spirit of Christ that dwells in us from our baptism, and that is renewed in us in the Eucharist, we bear Christ’s presence and are called to Christ’s ministry. It is a part of our understanding of sacrament, and specifically of the Church as sacrament: the outward and visible sign of God’s grace active in the world.

It seems to me that Incarnation is a place to start in reflecting on an Episcopal culture for health care. If this is a theme of the Anglican tradition, how can we reflect the Incarnation in modern medical care?

Perhaps we can begin with our own sense of our call. We are called to carry on a healing ministry that was an important sign of who Christ was. Healing after healing in the Gospels demonstrated both who Christ was, and God’s will for wholeness in creation. Certainly, if the Church is sacramental, reflecting in worship and in the world the grace of God in Christ, healing and health care must be significant areas of the Church’s ministry.

And we can become more personal in that. We can see those who provide care as persons reflecting the compassion of Christ, making it concrete, incarnate. Now, not all those who provide that care would use that language. However, as the faith community behind the institutions we can surely hold that perspective.

At the same time we can look for Christ in those who receive the care. We are called to serve “the least of these,” recognizing that when we serve them we indeed serve Christ. Many will share with us the Spirit of Christ received in Baptism. However, we can still see in those who do not the image and likeness of God. We can look for Christ in them; and they can call forth Christ in us.

This is a brief and incomplete reflection; but it seems the obvious place to start. As Incarnation is central to the Anglican tradition, to our theology of Church and Sacrament, it will be central to any understanding of an Episcopal culture for health care. If we are to call this culture for care ours, it must surely reflect in a concrete way the compassionate and healing presence of Christ.

5 comments:

Connie said...

I can say "Amen" to that. I wouldn't have put my finger on the Incarnation aspect of Anglican theology (because I don't know enough about it, unfortunately), so thank you for pointing that out. Looks like the beginnings of an Episcopal Health Care Manifesto to me!

Marshall said...

Thanks, Connie. Manifesto, eh? Perhaps.

Do read the Ramsey article. It's quite good, even 60 years out.

Bill said...

Just wanted to let you know I'm following along. This is fascinating. I'm processing this all, even if slowly. No "Eureka" moments yet, but I'll yell if I get one.

Edward said...

We just finished reading, and will finish discussing, The Nearly Perfect Crime, How the Church Almost Killed the Ministry of Healing, by Francis MacNutt. I found it an interesting perspective on how healing ministry has changed over the course of the life of the Church. Have you read the book?

Marshall said...

No, I haven't. I'll have to look into it. Thanks.

I have read MacNutt's earlier, primary book on healing. Sometimes the relationship seems vague at best between "healing ministry" as exercised in the Church and "health care" as supported by the Church. That, of course, can become grist for the mill in this ongoing reflection.