Holy Saturday 20 April

16Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. The prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective.

17Elijah was a human being like us, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth. 18Then he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain and the earth yielded its harvest.

The word translated “healed” in verse 16 is a different Greek word from verse 15. Here James uses the Greek word iaomai. But, like sozo in verse 15, iaomai can equally well be translated as “healed” or “made whole.”

Whatever word is used to translate iaomai, James makes a significant connection here between honesty and healing or wholeness. It is sad that the church chose to disconnect the powerful meaning of these words from their deeper significance. Instead of being about the way the community as a whole needs to function, it became an instruction manual for a particular office in the church. Priests adopted to themselves the prerogative of “hearing confessions” and pronouncing absolution. Much of the power of this text was lost.

The truth revealed in James’ words is that secrets make a community unwell. When we hide from one another, we are diminished; the community is depleted; people become fragmented and confused. It is hard to get your bearings in a community that is unable to practice the transparency and honesty for which James calls here.

How this all connects to the story of Elijah is a bit of a mystery. All I can imagine is that James uses the tale of Elijah’s prayer and Israel’s drought to demonstrate that the prayer he is urging upon the church is a powerful instrument for change, transformation and healing.

A community that practices the truth-telling, transparency, and openness which James proposes with his instruction to “confess your sins to one another” will be a powerful instrument for life and renewal in the world.