33 - Fourth Sunday of Pascha. The Paralytic. May 6, 2012

Fourth Sunday of Pascha

Sunday of the Paralytic

This Wednesday we come to the middle of Pascha and the Feast of Mid-Pentecost. From this Sunday to next Sunday, a period of eight days (symbol of the resurrection), we are in the heart of the Pascha season. I want to share with you a most important lesson that comes from meditation on this morning’s Gospel as we enter into the heart of the Pascha season as into the tomb of the risen Christ.

The lesson is this: the mysteries of the Christian Faith, centered as they are in the tomb of Christ beneath the surface of the earth, are rooted in the tomb of our heart beneath the surface of our daily life, beneath the surface of our moods and our thoughts, our hopes and dreams. This is where the mysteries of Christ are directly encountered. The mysteries of Christ are not some speculative religious idea; they are not an indemonstrable assertion of “faith” that one subscribes to as one would to the platform of a political party or to some scientific theory or the speculative ideas of some philosophical school of thought. Faith in the death and resurrection of our Lord, God and Savior, Jesus Christ, is lived not in our head, not in our moods or sentimental feelings but in the inner chamber of the soul at the existential or personal center of our soul – in the tomb, let’s say, of the heart that Christ by His Holy Pascha has made radiant with life. It is here, in the soul, that we experience firsthand Christ’s victory over hell. It is here that the death and resurrection of Christ is proved as a fact of history and as the new spiritual reality of our soul and body.

This is the lesson; but what it means, and why it is such Good News, needs to be explained.

If we would turn off the noise and the flickering images long enough to attain some measure of stillness, sooner than later we might find that beneath our frenetic business there sits, as it were, an anxious uneasiness on the tomb of our heart. We may become aware that beneath the façade of our sophistication and savoir faire, there is a vague ache gnawing at our souls from the fact that we are troubled about many things. Memories of things we’ve done or haven’t done, of things that have been or haven’t been done to us may have been forgotten, but they haven’t disappeared. They’ve just been buried deep in the soil of our subconscious, creating a gloomy pall that shrouds our soul, a simmering anger agitating us, a deep loneliness haunting us.

I think St Paul would tell us that we have come upon the outskirts of the fear of death he talks about in his epistles, and that sin and death go hand in hand, and that the troubled unrest that gnaws at us is the outgrowth of the disobedience and self-will of our sins and transgressions that have made us paralyzed in our soul like corpses lying dead in the tomb of our heart.

We give ourselves to various diversions, medicine, psychology or science, hoping they will take away our unrest; but none of them shows a power really to break through into the tomb of our heart to give us the peace and joy that we yearn for, because none of these is able really to wash our conscience clean, or save us from death or the fear of death. These things are all subject themselves to death.

Even the surface of our life is not at peace. We are troubled by outbreaks of lust and selfishness and greed, anger and irritability and impatience, jealousy and envy, vainglory and conceit and pride, sloth and listlessness, despair and depression. Our fascination and love for sexual immorality, moreover, the quickness of our anger, the readiness with which we give in to greed, the smugness of our vanity, the unmitigated arrogance of our conceit, our proneness to despair and listlessness: these, too, rip away at the relationships that are supposed to make our life meaningful.

These things are the face of the sin that has slain our soul, leaving us dead in the tomb of our heart, paralyzed like this morning’s paralytic, unable to walk in the joy and serenity of the Spirit.

In this, I would have us see that the death of which St Paul speaks when he says that outside of Christ we are dead in our sins and trespasses, and the death that the Church tells us that Christ destroyed, the death that He raised us from, is not an abstraction, and it does not lie in the future. It is the reality of our daily life here and now. We are living in this death in the passions that enslave us and in the sins and trespasses that so easily beset us. If these are the stench of death, can we not see that death is the odor of our life?

This is the death that Christ has destroyed by His death. And, we experience the victory of Christ’s Holy Resurrection here and now in the miracle that takes place in the healing of our soul from the ache that gnaws at it and in the liberation from the passions that enslave us when we take up our bed and walk according to the command of Christ.

The Church’s ascetic disciplines, her Scriptures, her prayers, her holy mysteries, her theology, everything about her, are rooted in Christ’s tomb where He became one with us in our death. They are the concrete, historical, spiritual and personal expressions of Christ, Who is Himself the Resurrection and the Life. And so, the Church in all aspects of her worship and spirituality and discipline alone has the power to penetrate into the tomb of our heart and to touch us at our existential center, at our root where we are dead, and to wash away the guilt of our sins that trouble us in the blood of Christ and to heal us deep within from our inner anxiety, our simmering anger, our sadness, our loneliness, for she alone is the body of the crucified and risen Christ who has trampled down death by His death and given life to those in the tombs.  

Our healing in the resurrection of Christ begins with the sincere confession of our sins, not once but regularly, as often as needed. Through confession, we descend beneath the shroud and come with Christ into the tomb of our hearts. In the words of the Church’s prayers and in her holy mysteries we receive the life-giving power of Christ’s Resurrection that enable us to rise up, take up our bed and walk in the light of His holy commandments. These prayers and mysteries of the Church, rooted in Christ’s Resurrection, are veritable droplets of light radiating from the tomb of Christ and sprinkling our soul with the living waters of the Holy Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead. If we would but clothe ourselves with them, if we would live in them and not in the vanity of worldly lust and pride, they would make our souls wet with the light of Christ’s Holy Resurrection. Our heart would become clean; the tomb of our heart would become radiant with the life of Christ’s Holy Resurrection in the joy and fellowship of divine love.

If we would abide in the ascetic disciplines and mysteries of the Church that are rooted in the victory of Christ’s Cross and in the glory of His Resurrection, Christ Himself would abide in us, as He promised He would. And we would witness the miracle of Christ’s Resurrection taking place in our own soul. Through the grace that permeates the disciplines and prayers of the Church, our troubled soul would be cleansed of the guilt of our sins and trespasses. Our unrest would be calmed. We would experience the deliverance of Christ our God from the passions that enslave us. Their power over us would dissolve in the fire of the Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead. For that same fiery power would be flowing through us as living water, washing away the stench of our death and making us radiant with the life of Christ’s Resurrection. The Church bears witness to us in our baptism that the rags of simmering anger would fall away and be replaced by a Robe of Light in the joy, the peace, and love of Christ our God.

Let us take up our bed and walk. Confess your sins. In repentance begin to live in the life of the Church and live in the Resurrection of Christ, and become a witness to the miracle of His Holy Resurrection in your own soul, trampling down the death of your soul here and now by His death and giving us life that we begin to taste here and now in the joy of Christ’s Resurrection. Glory to Jesus Christ! Christ is risen!