This Sunday’s (Oct. 9) Gospel lesson is loaded (brimming and chockful), and yet it is one of the briefest we have had in months. Not to worry: Lent, with its Revised Common Lectionary whole-chapter Gospel lessons, is coming.
We all remember this story: Ten lepers approached Jesus, asking for mercy. Jesus commanded them to show themselves to the priests, when they were immediately healed. One of them, a Samaritan and a foreigner, returned to thank Jesus; the other nine did not. And Jesus said to the Samaritan, “Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.”
I love many things about this story, and I believe this healing is one of Jesus’ most dramatic. The lepers did not have to do anything, other than show themselves as witnesses to the priests. Often Jesus’ miracles are accompanied by an act: Casting nets on the other side, putting his fingers in ears, touching a severed ear or dabbing spittle in eyes.
Many of Jesus’ miracles and healings were wonderfully automatic, as when the water was changed to wine, the paralyzed healed and dead raised to life. This healing of the lepers was one of those kids of miracles. The one who returned in gratitude happened to be the foreigner. That is lesson for another time.
Jesus' healing miracles regularly appear in our Eucharistic and Daily Office lectionary texts, which is the reason that our hymnals contain numerous hymns on healing. One such text, which is our Sequence Hymn for this Sunday morning’s 10:30 service, was first published in a hymnal written for use in a hospital chapel.
Edward Hayes Plumptre (1821-1891) published his hymn “Thine arm, O Lord, in days of old” as a leaflet titled A Hymn used in the Chapel of King’s College Hospital (London, 1864). King’s College London, not to be confused with King’s College Cambridge or any manner of King’s colleges worldwide, founded this hospital some 170 years ago, and it is still going strong today.
Plumptre, who taught at King’s College London as a young priest and later became Dean of Wells Cathedral, included so many images of healing in this great hymn text that it bears printing here in its entirity. Written to be sung in a hospital chapel, it is appropriate for so many of the healing miracles of Jesus.
Thine arm, O Lord, in days of old was strong to heal and save;
it triumphed o’er disease and death, o’er darkness and the grave.
To thee they went, the blind, the deaf, the palsied, and the lame,
the leper set apart and shunned, the sick with fevered frame.
And lo! thy touch brought life and health, gave hearing, strength, and sight;
and youth renewed and frenzy calmed owned thee, the Lord of light:
and now, O Lord, be near to bless, almighty as of yore,
in crowded street, by restless couch, as by Gennesaret’s shore.
Be thou our great deliverer still, thou Lord of life and death;
restore and quicken, soothe and bless, with thine almighty breath:
to hands that work and eyes that see, give wisdom’s heavenly lore,
that whole and sick, and weak and strong, may praise thee evermore.
Edward Hayes Plumptre (1821-1891)