I think Isaiah 35 is far too rich for a single post you might read in a minute or two. In the middle of this text, the prophet turns our attention from the glory of nature and its occasional surprise glory.
In these middle verses we find the likely reason for its inclusion:
Strengthen hands that are feeble,
make firm knees that are weak,
Say to the fearful of heart:
Be strong, do not fear!
Fear is one aspect of serious illness. I’m not sure that strength, bodily or otherwise, is always an antidote for being afraid. Spiritually, I’d rather seek hope. If a body wants to be strong, there is always the gym and a healthy diet. Hope is far more elusive and difficult.
The theme of Isaiah 40:28-31 is quite similar. Even if you don’t believe in more than one Isaiah, clearly this theme of trust and the ability of God to strengthen us was an important one for the Jewish people. And it is for us Christians too:
Here is your God,
he comes with vindication;
With divine recompense
he comes to save you.
Then the eyes of the blind shall see,
and the ears of the deaf be opened;
Then the lame shall leap like a stag,
and the mute tongue sing for joy.
Jesus promised a fulfillment in the synagogue in Luke 4:16ff. It is a new dominion which the prophet also envisioned a few chapters prior to this text. God reminds us that though we might feel powerless, vulnerable, and disabled, our ultimate hopes will be realized. And more.
The Christian context of anointing is not necessarily a physical healing of all that ails us. That would be contrary to the laws of nature and the reality of bodily aging and decay. We seek hope in a deeper reality. We wish for a continuation of God’s good graces, but in a life beyond the trials and obstacles of the present day. We can’t really grasp it. It lies as far beyond our mortal experience as a garden is removed from a desert. But God’s promise is that it will come.
For an in-depth treatment of the Pastoral Care rites, check this page that outlines our examination from a decade ago.