How many people believe in healings? How many people believe that someone could be healed just by touching something that belonged to a highly spiritual person, a relic? It all seems pretty hokey, doesn’t it?
I’m frankly uncomfortable with “faith healers.” When I was ten years old, our family vacationed in Quebec. We visited St. Anne DeBeaupre, and watched a long line of people waiting to enter the church, hoping to be cured of various ills. I gazed, somewhat scornfully, at thousands of framed coins which had passed harmlessly through the digestive tracts of an equal number of people, with the escapes from death attributed to St. Anne. I had a harder time accounting for displays of crutches left behind, but even then, I wasn’t buying that modern-day miracle stuff.
Now, I’m way past ten years old, my faith in a God who can heal is secure, but I still wonder about the veracity of a number of claims associated with relics.
Throughout Christian history, items which belonged to, or were associated with “saints,” have been venerated. The official definition of “venerated,” is that the relics are valued because they cause us to better “adore him whose martyrs they are” (Saint Jerome). It’s become something of a joke... if all the purported pieces of the cross of Christ were assembled, they would make plenty of crosses. In the 16th century, Erasmus wrote: “There was so much wood from the cross, Christ must have been crucified on a whole forest.”
But, when you put the silliness of humans aside, in their intense desires to experience something better, or even something thrilling, what’s left?
Surprisingly, what’s left are several Scriptural references to miracles associated with relics.
The best known is certainly the instance when the unclean woman touched Jesus robe and was healed. Despite the fact that Jesus was in a crowd, surrounded by people who were probably touching him, he recognized that power had gone out from him, to accomplish this healing. Jesus did, in reality, make his clothing holy! OK, that’s Jesus... he’s a special case, right? And he was wearing the garment when the miracle happened.
Try this one... In Acts 19, this sentence just seems to be eased in “under the radar.” OK, not really, but Baptists (as I was raised) don’t tend to read it out loud. “God did extraordinary miracles through Paul, so that even handkerchiefs and aprons that had touched him were taken to the sick, and their illnesses were cured and the evil spirits left them.” Not too many fanciful ways to interpret that one and explain it away.
There is also a striking report in the Old Testament. The prophet Elisha (one of the greatest of the prophets) had died and was buried. While some Israelites were burying another man, Moabite raiders attacked. They wanted to get out of there, fast! So they threw the body into Elisha’s grave. When his body touched Elisha’s bones he came to life! Really? That's astonishing, but there it is, in the Bible.
Bones, aprons, napkins, fragments of the cross? Where do we draw the line? Should we be making any of these decisions as to what is a “true relic?” I have no idea, but any true miracle is sure to come from the power of God alone.
I Kings 13