36 - Sixth Sunday of Pascha, May 9, 2010

Acts 16:16-34

John 9:1-38

When you come into the Church, you will hear: “Christ is risen!” “Christ is in our midst!” You look around, but you cannot see Christ either risen or in our midst. But, I wonder if this isn’t precisely the point. That is to say, what you do with this apparent absence of Christ when the Church is proclaiming to you that He is present reveals the orientation of your heart, what you really love in your heart. And how serious this is, is given in this: how we respond to the call of the Church to believe in Christ whom we can’t see is a test to see if we are dead; and if we’re dead, do we want to live?

At the end of this morning’s Gospel story, Jesus says to the Pharisees: “If you were blind, you would have no sin; but now you are saying that you see. Your blindness remains.” I think that what’s being played out in this morning’s Gospel, as in the Churches in the world today, is the word of the Lord to the prophets. The Lord says to Isaiah: “Go and say to this people: ‘Hear and hear but do not understand. See and see, but do not perceive.’”[1] He says to Jeremiah: “Hear this, O foolish and senseless people who have eyes but do not see; who have ears but do not hear.”[2] And to Ezekiel: “Son of Man, you dwell in the midst of a rebellious house who have eyes to see, but see not, who have ears to hear, but hear not.”[3]

We can understand what the prophets mean from Psalm 135: “The idols of the ungodly are silver and gold, the work of men’s hands. They have mouths, but they speak not; they have eyes but they see not; they have ears, but they hear not, neither is there any breath in their mouths. They that make them and who trust in them are just like them.” That is to say, those who trust in idols are just like them. They have no breath – no Spirit of God – in their mouths. They are dead, like the idols are.

All of this calls to mind the story of Adam and Eve in the Garden. They were told by God not to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, because on the day they ate from it, they would die. But, they did eat from it, and, “their eyes were opened.”[4] When a person dies, his eyes don’t close; they open. Reflecting on this in the context of the Gospel for this morning, it occurs to me that “their eyes were opened” is a biblical way of saying: “and they died.”

And so, they have eyes but they see not; they have ears but they hear not. Is this not a description of a corpse? The prophets are saying that Israel has died and become no better than a corpse because they do not love God in their hearts; they love idols and they have become dead, as idols are. And so, when God the Word Himself takes flesh and becomes visible, the Jews, looking at Jesus are looking right at God, the very God who revealed the Law to Moses whose disciples they claim to be, and they don’t see Him at all. He does His good works of healing on the Sabbath, demonstrating in this that the new creation foretold by the prophets is taking place right before their eyes, but they don’t see it, like corpses who have eyes but see nothing, who have ears but hear nothing. They are dead because in their heart they love idols and not God. They are just like the idols they love. They have eyes but they cannot see God. They have ears but they cannot hear the voice of God. They have mouths but there is no breath in them. They are dead.

So we come into the Church and we hear the Church proclaiming to us that Christ is in our midst because He is risen. We look around and don’t see anything. What do we do about that?

It’s a critical question because we’re not talking about a man who lived for a while, taught some neat things, and then died and was raised back to life. We’re talking about God, the God who created the heavens and the earth, the God in whose image we are made, the God who is the root of our life, whom our heart knows immediately, intuitively, instinctively. If because we can’t see anything, we therefore dismiss the Church’s proclamation that Christ is in our midst because He is risen, we are dismissing God, the source of our life and our salvation.

How are we expected to believe this proclamation of the Church that Christ our God is in our midst because He is risen? Because God is love, and we are created in His image. We are love, and everyone who is even a little bit alive knows love immediately, without words, as soon as he sees it and feels it.

This God who is love is the Author of Life. In His love, He has united Himself to us and become man in order to destroy death by His death and to give life to those in the tombs, and even to us who were dead in our trespasses, so that there would be nothing to separate us from Him, so that we could unite ourselves to Him, if we want to, if in our heart we are even a little bit alive. The Word of this Man Jesus is the Word of life, because this Man Jesus is the Son of God, the Word of the Father, the Icon of the invisible God by whom all things were made and in whom all things are held together. So, if we are keeping His Word, we are being raised into life – not the life of the world, not the life of the soul, but the life of God, the life of His Holy Spirit that is eternal and that we know immediately, intuitively without words as true life because it is love unspeakable, a love of such depth, such breadth, such height, such width that it heals us body and soul; it heals us even to the point of raising us who were dead in our trespasses to life. It is a love with such healing power that when it dies, it is not the Love that dies but death that dies, and those who were in the tombs are given life in that Love.

So, if we are keeping the Word of this God, we are giving ourselves to the love of God. The eyes of our heart are being opened to love, so that when love appears to us – even if it appears to us invisibly, unseen – we see it. As St John Climacus says, we see God in an unseeing way, whatever that means. Perhaps it means we see Him in a living way, in the way of love, whatever that means. If we are giving the love of our heart to the love of God, then our ears are being opened and we recognize His voice when He speaks to us in the teaching of the Church, which is His body. And so, when we hear the preacher crying out: Christ is in our midst! Christ is risen! We respond with conviction: “He is and ever shall be!” “Indeed, He is risen!” We respond with conviction because we know from our own immediate experience, from hearing the Word of God in our hearts and keeping it, living it, studying it, we know immediately that He is indeed present, He is indeed risen, because we experience Him in His Holy Spirit in our hearts.

But if we are not keeping His Word, if we are giving our love to the many idols of the world, fame, fortune, status, the lusts of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, the pride of life, we will not hear His voice even when we hear it sounding forth in the teaching of the Church, we will not see Him even when we see Him as He clothes Himself in the sacramental worship of the Church, which is His body, because our hearts are not tuned to Him. They’re turned elsewhere. But, if our hearts are not tuned to God they are turned to death, and so we are like corpses who see but see not, who hear but hear not.

I do believe that we are looking right at Christ this morning, here in the worship of His Church. If we do not see Him, if we do not discern His presence even in an unseeing way, we should ask ourselves, what do we love in our secret heart? Forget what you say with your lips. What do you love in your heart? What do you give yourself to in the secret closet of your mind, when no one is looking?

But, if we want to see Christ and begin to live our life according to His Word so that we can experience the love of God in our lives, hear what the Savior says to us this morning. “If you were blind, you would have no sin.” I submit that the blindness to which the Savior refers here is the blindness of eyes that have not been opened like the eyes of a corpse, from having eating of the forbidden tree, from having given its love to the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and the pride of life. It is the blindness, perhaps, of the infant still in the womb of its mother, waiting to be born into the light of day, here it would be the Light of Christ’s Holy Resurrection. And I believe that we can recover this blindness that leads to illumination in the light and life of God by following the Lord’s first command that He gives to us: “Repent”. That is to say, turn around and look the other way. Look away from the lusts of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and the pride of life, the fruit of the forbidden tree; turn your eyes toward the Fruit of the Tree of Life, the Holy Eucharist of the Church. That is to say, make your life into a daily preparation for union with Christ in Holy Eucharist, the God who created you and who loved you and now gives Himself to you as Living Bread and the Cup of Life so that you might become a partaker of the divine nature and live. Confess your sins daily before God. Cultivate humility. Fill your empty moments with prayer, raising your mind toward God, rather than to the empty futility of the world’s distractions. Flee from vanity and from pride. Become a student of Christ’s commandments. Make Him your Lord and your God. Pray to Him, call out to Him, seek His face that He covers with the veil of His Holy Scriptures in the teaching of His Holy Church, which is His body, alive with His Holy Spirit who raised Him from the dead and destroyed death by His death and gave life to those in the tombs, even to us who were dead in our trespasses. Amen.

[1] Isa 6:9. Cf. also Isa 44:18

[2] Jer 5:21

[3] Eze 12:2

[4] Gn 3:7