34 - Healing of the Paralytic, Apr 29, 2018

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Acts 9:32-42

John 5:1-15

In our two Scripture lessons this morning, we see the Church, represented by St Peter, doing what her LORD and Savior did: raising a paralytic to health. This healing is an icon that shows what the Church is all about: raising people from death to life in the power of the Holy Spirit, the same Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead. The mission of the Church, then, is to go throughout the world raising people from death to life and making them whole.

Our Gospel this morning is a Paschal Gospel; i.e., it has the shape of Pascha. This is clear simply from the fact that it is assigned for our reading on this, the Fourth Sunday of Pascha. What I hear the Church telling us in this morning’s Gospel, having proclaimed the Resurrection of Christ on the last three Sundays, is how we live in the Resurrection so that it is made incarnate in our daily life.

Liturgical texts for this morning describe the pool as a prefigurement of the Tomb of Christ and of the baptismal font. The pool made just one person whole at a time, but in the baptismal font, “endless multitudes are made whole.” The angel who came down into the pool at a certain season and troubled the water is like the angel who descended into the empty Tomb of the risen Savior – might he have been the same angel? – and announced to the myrrh-bearers that Jesus of Nazareth is risen! When Christ dies on the Cross and descends into hell, Hades is troubled and gives up all those it had swallowed, and they are healed of death

The paralytic himself, as the liturgical texts for this morning say, is the image of our soul, of our inner man, paralyzed by our transgressions, our unseemly deeds and acts, which echoes St Paul: “[Before you were baptized into Christ] you were dead in your sins and trespasses!” When we are immersed into the pool of the baptismal font, we are immersed into the death of Christ that swallows up our death. Rising from the font, we are found no more among the dead, but among the living, among the saints of the Church, Christ’s crucified and risen Body. The life that now lives in us in the Church is the radiant Life of Christ’s Holy Spirit, given to us not as an idea that we accept intellectually but concretely as our food and drink. We eat it and drink it in the mystery of Christ’s Body and Blood in Holy Eucharist.

In the way that the paralytic’s bed is described in the liturgical texts, it is clearly an image of the cross that Christ commands those who would follow Him to take up; for, as the LORD commands His disciples, “Take up your cross and follow Me,” so the liturgical texts frame the LORD’s command to the paralytic: “Christ commanded him who had been ailing for many years to take up his bed and walk upright!” (cf. Odes 1 & 8 for Matins).

But, we see in, for example, the liturgical texts for the Elevation of the Cross, that Christ’s Cross is an image of our body. There, in those liturgical texts, Christ nailed to the Cross is an image of His mysterious and indissoluble union with our flesh to the point of death on the Cross. If, then the paralytic’s bed is an image of the cross he is commanded to take up when he is made whole, then we are given to see that his bed is the image of our body, of our outer man; and we are given to see our body – and in this I would include our whole human nature, not just our body but also our soul, even our “ego” – as that which carries our heart, our self that transcends our body and soul and even our “ego” (cf. Jer 17:5 or 9 LXX) as the paralytic’s bed carried the paralytic.

With this, I see it as critical to note that just as Christ did not shed His body when He died on the Cross – and. He was raised not as a ghost, but in the same “flesh and bones” in which He was crucified – so also, the paralytic, when he was healed, was not commanded to shed himself of his bed, but to take up his bed and walk: “Thou didst raise up the paralytic, commanding him to walk straightway and to take up his bed upon his shoulders, which had carried him” (Oikos for Ode 6, Maitns); and so, “He went forth, bearing his own bed” (Sessional Hymn for Ode 3).

So also, when we are baptized into the likeness of Christ’s death and Resurrection, we are not shed of our body or our psychology, or for that matter the suffering of daily life in this world; e.g., an obnoxious co-worker, a failed marriage. And, this is the lesson I see in this morning’s Gospel, given to us by the Church in her liturgical hymns and prayers: the healing accomplished in our baptism is not the shedding of our body or our soul and whatever “natural” maladies may afflict us in this earthly life – e.g., poor eyesight, or let’s say autism, or even a homosexual orientation. Rather, these are our cross, our “bed” that we are called to take up and to carry, so they no longer carry us, we carry them.

But, how do we do that? These things I have named are outside of our control. How do we carry circumstances and maladies of soul and body that are outside our control?

By uniting ourselves to Christ as we swore we would do at our baptism. But, how do we do that in real terms?

I said that the Church in her liturgical texts sets the paralytic before us as an image of our soul; that is, of our heart or of our self, our inner man where we choose in what direction we will turn our heart: whether towards Christ to follow His commandments, or to the world to follow its standards of success. The salvation of the LORD pierces to the heart of our inner man, to where our will originates. How can Christ penetrate our heart, then, if we don’t want Him to, if our will is not to receive Him? Our salvation is received and it begins, then, in our heart, in our spirit, at the point of our will. If we receive Christ, He gives us the power to become children of God; that is, He gives us the power to take up our bed and walk – if we want to. Note that He does not carry the paralytic’s bed. He commands the paralytic to carry his own bed. For, what’s at issue is our will, whether or not we want to be made whole; whether or not we want to follow Christ into His Resurrection.

And, if we do, then all the maladies that afflict our outer man, and all those irritations, sufferings and sorrows that assault us in our outward circumstances, these become the cross or the “arena” of our spiritual warfare. They are the concrete, real-life occasions in which we act out our choice either to deny ourselves and follow Christ or to give in to our desires and deny Christ. That is, it’s not the things outside our control we are called to control or carry; we strive to control ourselves in our inner man by choosing to follow the commandments of Christ, not our own desires: e.g., choosing not to act out our anger, or not to give in to our lust, but to live and act according to the commandments of Christ.

If we receive Christ in our heart, if we want to follow Christ, then we can do what He commands; we can deny ourselves and take up our cross and follow Him into His Resurrection because Christ has commanded it. Remember, this Christ is the WORD of God in whom all things were made. He commanded and they came to be. He commands and creation happens; life happens, life that is vigorous and whole. Beauty happens; joy and goodness happen.

What I mean is that the commandments of Christ carry within themselves the power to do them, for they carry in their words the WORD of God who has trampled down death by His death. When we receive Christ in our heart, and in our heart we choose to do His commandments, we are uniting ourselves to Christ in our heart, and when we unite ourselves to Christ in our heart, we receive His Holy Spirit into our heart. Then the suffering of the outer man of our body and soul, even our death becomes our cross united to His Cross and they become our weapons of victory by which we put to death all that is dead in us, our anger, our fear, our self-pity, our depression, our egotism. And then, the tomb of our heart is found to have opened onto and to become one with the empty tomb of Christ, and we are found no more among the dead but among the living, among the saints and all the righteous, in Christ’s Holy Resurrection.

This, then, is how we live in Christ’s Resurrection so that it is made incarnate in us. As we unite ourselves to Christ, our paralysis, our suffering in this life is transfigured by the power of His Cross into our weapon of victory, the death of our death. The bed of our paralysis, our cross, becomes, if you will, the tomb that opens onto the joy of Christ that the world cannot take away – because it is not a joy that is of the world. It is the joy of Christ who by His death has trampled down death and given life to those in the tombs. Amen! Christ is risen!