34 - The Paralytic, April 25, 2010

Acts 9:32-43

John 5:1-15

One of the hymns for the Sunday of the Myrrh-bearing women caught my attention: “Hearken, ye women, and give ear to the voice of joy, for I have trampled down the tyrant Hades and raised the world from corruption. Hasten ye quickly and proclaim the gladsome tidings to My friends; for I have willed that joy shine forth from the tomb upon all My creation from whence there first came forth sorrow.” (p. 128b)

The hymn speaks of two centers, two different lives. The one life is centered in Hades, or in death and corruption. This is the earthly life we live in this world, the life of the body and of the soul. And so, this life is centered in sorrow; for the joy of every birth sooner or later will come to an end in the sorrow and grief of death. The joy even of a happy marriage is but the prelude to the bitter grief of the loss of one’s beloved spouse. “What earthly sweetness is unmixed with grief?” so the Church mourns at her funeral service. In this life, all things are but deluding dreams. Riches do not endure nor do they accompany us to the grave. All these things are vanities and do not exist after death.

Christ’s proclamation to the myrrh-bearing women in this Paschal hymn is that this earthly life centered in death and sorrow has been invaded by God. God Himself has become man and voluntarily submitted to death. And so the center of this earthly life, which is Hades and sorrow and corruption, has been penetrated by the Seed of God, Christ Our Lord and Savior; and it has received into itself the Life of God, His Holy Spirit. In the center of this earthly life another life has been planted: the Life of God’s Holy Spirit through the death and resurrection of Christ God. Through His death, Christ has established Himself as the root of earthly life, and in Him, death, sorrow and corruption are no longer the center of earthly life. The Gospel proclaims a new center: the old center of death has been replaced by the new center of divine life. The old center of sorrow has been replaced by the new center of joy.  The old center of corruption has been replaced by the new center of everlasting life that returns no more to the grave but ascends from glory to glory in the joy of Christ’s Holy Resurrection.

The Paralytic this morning, when he is healed from his paralysis, serves as an icon for us of the healing brought by the Word of God in His death and Resurrection. The man’s paralysis is a symbol of death. His bed is a symbol of the funeral bier on which the corpse rests. By Christ’s Word of command, the paralytic is healed and raised up from his bed of paralysis as though he is being raised up from death and the funeral bier, and he is established in the new center of Christ’s Holy Resurrection. The dark shadow of sorrow is lifted and the light of divine joy, which the world cannot take away, spreads through his limbs. He is given strength in the grace of the Holy Spirit that enables him to rise up, take up his bed and walk.

The command given to the paralytic to take up his bed and walk is the command given to us in our baptism. In our baptism, we voluntarily unite ourselves to Christ in a death like His. And so, united to Christ we die to death and we are raised not to the life of the soul, which has no power to keep us from the grave and corruption, or to keep our bodies from disintegrating back into the dust, but to the life of the Holy Spirit that heals us and gives divine life to us in both soul and body.

This gift of life was given to us by the grace of God in our baptism. Now, we are commanded to take up our bed, take up our cross, and walk in this new life of Christ’s Holy Resurrection into which we have been raised. When we walk according to the commandments of Christ, we are centering this our earthly life in the new center of Christ’s Holy Resurrection so that the path we walk in this earthly life from our birth to the grave is transfigured to become the better and changeless path that ascends to God, and our daily dying becomes in Christ a daily dying to death and a daily rising up in the new birth that is from above that transfigures us from children of the flesh into children of God. Sorrow is transfigured into joy, the joy of God that the world cannot take away, for it is the joy of Christ’s Holy Resurrection in which death has been destroyed, making the death of those who are in Christ to be the death of death and the beginning of their eternal life in the joy of God.

The point I want to make with this is that in order to see the truth of the Gospel proclamation and to experience it as the really real, one must get up, take up one’s bed and walk go from the old center of this earthly life to the new center of this earthly life, the new center of Christ’s death and Resurrection. Many dismiss the Gospel of Christ’s Holy Church as a fable or as a religious idea peculiar to the human founders of the Christian Faith. They discourse on the Christian Faith in their academic scholarship; but even in their learned academic scholarship, they write on the Christian Church from within the old center. They take up their books and their pens, but they do not take up their cross. They do not take up the ascetic disciplines of the Church. They do not retreat into the closet of their deep heart to confess their sins before God or to draw near to God in prayer. They do nothing to make their way to the new center of divine life that has been established in the heart of man in the joy of Christ’s Holy Resurrection, but they stay in the old center. And so, thinking and studying and writing from within the old center of this earthly life, they think they have explained the Christian Faith when they show the social and political forces that produced it, and the particular psychological and cultural dynamics that gave to its doctrine its particular shape. One can learn useful things from these studies on the Christian Faith written from the old center of this earthly life. But as to what is the real essence of the Christian Faith, its real inspiration and its true origin, one can learn nothing from these studies. For the Christian Faith comes from and proclaims a new center of divine joy in the divine life of Christ’s Holy Resurrection, and one cannot see or understand the truth and the life of the Christian Faith if one is not living in the Holy Spirit which that new center proclaims, or taking up one’s bed, one’s cross, to make one’s way into the new center of the Holy Spirit by walking in the joy of Christ’s Holy Resurrection.

We can take this morning’s Gospel to be telling us what we must do to find this new center which the Gospel proclaims to us, and in which the Church established us when she immersed us in her baptismal font. We must take up our bed and walk. In other words, become students of Christ’s commandments that you may begin to live by them and walk in them. Learn repentance in the mind and spirit of humility. Confess your sins and begin to immerse your mind and your heart in the life of the Church by submitting your mind and your heart to the prayers of the Church, purifying your senses, your eyes, your ears, your tongue, your hands and your feet, by taking up the fast of the Church – both the outer fast of fasting from food in the seasons of fasting, and the inner fast that never ends of fasting from impure images, impure thoughts, words and deeds. The Church tells us that it is in the ascetic disciplines that purify our senses that we will see Christ and hear Him say, Rejoice! For, it is not the learned intellectuals with all their learning, who think and write and live in the old center of this earthly life, who will see Christ; it is the pure in heart who will see Christ, those, that is to say, who take up their beds and walk in repentance according to Christ’s command in order to make their way from the old center of paralysis lying on the bier of death and sorrow and corruption to the new center of walking in the divine life and joy of Christ’s Holy Resurrection.

This new center of the Holy Spirit that has been breathed out into the world through Christ’s Holy Resurrection is the treasure hiding in the field of this world, in the field of our soul. It is not far from us at all. It is very near to us. But we won’t find it if we stay where we are in the old center of this earthly life, centered on death and sorrow. Get up, take up your bed and walk. Begin to live the life of the Church and make your way to the new center of Christ’s Holy Resurrection and see with the eyes of your heart the Spiritual Life of joy that Christ our God has sown in the field of our soul and body by His death and Holy Resurrection. Amen.