Sin and Brokenness, Passage and Purpose: Reforms in Recent American Lutheran Rites for the Pastoral Care of the Sick
In 2006 the Evangelical Lutheran Church in American completed its newest worship book, Evangelical Lutheran Worship. For the first time in the history of American Lutheranism, a communal rite for healing appeared in the book used by the worshipper. The dissertation demonstrates that the renewed rite both restored the practice of anointing and laying on of hands as witnessed in the early and medieval church, and shifted focus away from the traditional Lutheran practice of confession and forgiveness. Such a rite indicates a shift in historical, anthropological and theological perspectives. By attending to the theological concerns identified in the history of the care for the sick, the dissertation constructs a Lutheran theology of healing that understands the nature of the human condition (original sin) as making all susceptible to sickness, while making clear that a direct casual connection between sins and sickness does not exist. Conflating sickness (or "brokenness") and sins misplaces human culpability and responsibility. This theology of healing lifts up the person and work of Jesus Christ as the "doctor" and "medicine" of body and soul, drawing upon the theology of the early church fathers and Luther, especially the communicatio idiomatum. This particular identity makes Christ present in the Lord's Supper, which is the concrete sacramental medicine. This theology critiques the language of "wholeness" as an unrealistic ideal in this life, and places healing as being for the entire person in the community of the Body of Christ. Through using tools from cultural anthropology, the rite is considered a rite of passage insofar as it facilitates the sick to pass from isolation to community, and from a secular to a Christian understanding of life. The rite is efficacious by communicating information and meaning to participants, creating new or renewed situations, and intensifying our Christian identity. The rite can also be inefficacious (infelicitous) in many ways. This dissertation develops an interdisciplinary framework of analysis, and concludes by offering an evaluation of the Evangelical Lutheran Worship healing rite, as well as other examples of healing rites. The healing rite is one place where major Christian themes and realities are embodied.
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