Now when the apostles at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent Peter and John to them. 15 The two went down and prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit 16 (for as yet the Spirit had not comea upon any of them; they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus). 17 Then Peter and John laid their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit. – Acts 8:14-17
This past weekend, Taylor and I attended a hospital tour at the facility where she will be delivering our first child about a month from now. Before we walked around the hospital, a nurse gave a presentation describing the procedures for the day of delivery and the time spent at the hospital afterwards. One of the things she described that most captured my attention was the importance of touch immediately after the baby is born. For the first two hours after the baby is born, the nurses encourage the mother and father to alternate in holding the baby “skin on skin.” This practice is known to have numerous benefits for the newborn and parents, and its importance highlights the fact that humans truly are created as communal beings who are meant to feel the physical touch of love.
Our reading from Acts today demonstrates the way that God’s loving power is communicated through touch as well. When the apostles in Jerusalem hear that many in Samaria “had accepted the word of God,” they send Peter and John as ambassadors to them. Interestingly, although the Samaritan believers had accepted the Gospel and been baptized, the Holy Spirit had not yet come on them. Peter and John (and presumably the Christians back in Jerusalem) pray for the Spirt to come, but God waits to send the Holy Spirit upon the new believers until Peter and John physically “laid their hands on them” in blessing. When we remember the ancient hostility and enmity between Jews and Samaritans, we see that God is uniting old enemies through sacred touch and the power of the Spirit. Christians today can learn a lot about the importance of loving human contact from this story of the earliest believers. In a world that seems to be increasingly individualistic and isolated, we are losing much of the human community and contact that once gave our lives purpose and direction. We are also now in a cultural moment in which we are, rightfully so, reckoning with violent and abusive touch against the most vulnerable among us that has been allowed to fester in the shadows for so long. In such a world, the reclaiming of holy touch and the “laying on of hands” is sorely needed. This week, ask yourself who God might be calling you (as a priestly ambassador of the Spirit) to reach out to and bless in word and touch. God truly has placed His power in our hands!