|36 - The Sign of the Healing on the Sabbath May, 10, 2020|
YouTube Link: https://youtu.be/LmrQ4L37XQA
On the Sunday of St Thomas, we read from St John that ‘Jesus did many other signs,’ so many that ‘if the signs were all written down, the world could not contain all the books’. I no longer see this as the Evangelist’s way of ending his Gospel with a kind of literary flourish (which had always struck me as odd). I now think he is, in fact, giving a veiled image of the LORD’s death and resurrection. For what is it to say that the world could not hold all the signs Jesus did if it isn’t to say that death could not hold Him? Indeed, the whole world is the sign that Jesus did, and everything in it. And what is it to say, ‘if they written down’ if it isn’t to speak of the incomprehensible mystery of the ‘WORD becoming flesh and dwelling among us?’ (Jn 1.12) For, His Incarnation, His death and three day burial and resurrection are the supreme Theophanies, the supreme divine signs of the love of God in which He created the world and then raised it up when He saw that we were perishing. (Jn 3.16) The signs that St John recorded in His Gospel, then, so that we might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God and have life in His Name, are each one an embodied, incarnate ray of that uncreated Light of Glory that emanated from Him, the True Light of the world, on Mt Tabor; that darkened the sun on the Day He was raised high and lifted up on the Cross; that spilled out of His Tomb even as they were laying His corpse in it and sealing it with a stone (Lk 23.54, from the verb, epifosken). They are each one a manifestation of the LORD Jesus Christ Himself in His true, divine identity as the Son of God, the very radiance of the Father’s Glory (Heb 1.3); so that if we see these signs, or rather; if we place the hands of our wounded souls and bodies, with St Thomas, into the wounds of His crucified and risen Body, we will believe, we will know that He is the Son of God, the Redeemer of the world, because we will discover within ourselves that by His wounds, our wounds are healed deep in our soul even to the point of being raised from death to life. O LORD, Glory to Thee!
So, I now see that the Gospel events the Church is setting before us on these Sundays of Pascha are each one a different sign by which the ‘holy and incorruptible preaching’ of the apostles is leading us ever deeper into the mystery of the LORD’s eternal salvation, His holy, saving and life-creating Pascha. Led by the Church’s preaching on these Sundays of Pascha, we climb, step by step, Sunday by Sunday, the ladder of the Cross. We are climbing not to the LORD’s Tomb at the top of the mountain (Golgotha). We are climbing from His Tomb at the top of the mountain. We are climbing from the top of that earthly mountain up the mystical Mountain of His Glorious Ascension. Our ascent is therefore hidden, invisible, for it is an ascent taking place mystically in the LORD’s Holy Resurrection not on this side of the grave but on the other side, in the inner chamber of our heart.
Two Sundays ago, the Church showed us the sign of St Thomas. Last Sunday, it was the sign of the LORD’s empty Tomb. This morning, we are given another sign. Each of these signs reveals to us more of what our baptism into Jesus’ death and Resurrection is all about, and what it means to believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and to become a new creation in Him so that in joy, we may give thanks because of the eternal life given to us in His Name. (cf. Jn 20.30-31) But, what is the sign in this morning’s Gospel? Is it the healing of the paralytic at the Pool of Bethesda? Only in part: the full sign is the healing of the paralytic at the Pool of Bethesda on the Sabbath!
I wish you could be with me right now, because I would love to see the light coming on in your head as you ponder this question: is there any theological difference between the LORD’s Tomb and the Sabbath? You may answer yes or no, and you’ll be right. If you say, no, you’re right if you mean that both are ‘signs’ of the mystery of the LORD’s Sabbath Rest. (cf. Gn 2.1-4) And, if you answer yes, you’re right if you mean to say that the Tomb is the mystery of the LORD’s Sabbath Rest in space; and the Sabbath is the mystery of the LORD’s Tomb in time.
Can you see? It’s like we fled from the Frying Pan only to find ourselves this morning in the Fire! Last Sunday, we thought we were fleeing the LORD’s Tomb, but we see this morning that we have fled only deeper into it; for, we find that we have fled to the Pool of Bethesda on the Sabbath. That is, we have fled only deeper into the mystery of the LORD’s Sabbath Rest; for here, at the Pool of Bethesda on the Sabbath, it begins to ‘dawn’ on us (cf. Lk 23.54—that is, mystically, we come to the First Day of the week) that the LORD’s Holy Pascha, the fearsome and terrible and life-creating mystery of His death and resurrection, fills and comprehends the whole of space-time so that space-time in every little part of it opens onto the eternal God in Heaven.
Now, contemplate the ‘signs’ of the last two Sundays in particular. Last Sunday, the Church led us from the Upper Room of St Thomas Sunday to the LORD’s Tomb with the myrrhbearing women. There, it was the angel giving to us the ‘holy and incorruptible preaching of the LORD’s eternal salvation.’ He told the myrrhbearers, and so he told us: Jesus is risen! He’s not in the Tomb anymore. We were told to see the place where they laid Him. And, when we saw it, we fled the Tomb in fear with the myrrhbearers. It says they were seized by ‘ecstasy’—they were seized by a mystery in which they found themselves outside of themselves. We were thrown out of ourselves onto the Path, if you will, of the Gospel’s inner Exodus, running at full speed, only to find that we have succeeded only in running deeper into the LORD’s Tomb here at the Pool of Bethesda on the Sabbath.
And now, the paralytic becomes our preacher of the ‘holy and incorruptible preaching of the LORD’s eternal salvation.’ It was Jesus who made him well, he tells us. But that’s not the sign! The sign is that Jesus made him well on the Sabbath; that is, in the mystery of God’s Sabbath Rest, in the mystery of God’s death and burial in the Tomb. It’s like the LORD healing on the Sabbath is directing us to go back and read Moses more closely; for does not Genesis 2 read as though God raises Adam from the dust of the ground and breathes into him the breath of life in His Sabbath Rest (Gn 2.1-7)? When Moses spoke of the Sabbath Rest of God, we now see that he was speaking of the LORD’s Holy Pascha, of His death and burial in the Tomb in which He would become absolutely one with Adam in the tomb of Adam’s heart, and in His union with Adam, transfigure the tomb into a Bridal Chamber and refashion Adam and raise him from death to life and all his children in the tombs. And the woman He would make to be ‘Eve’ in truth, the ‘Mother of all the living.’
Listen! Look and see! Last Sunday, we heard the angel. We looked and saw that the Tomb where the LORD’s body had been laid was empty! This morning, we hear the paralytic. We look and see that where he was lying by the Pool of Bethesda is empty! With the LORD who isn’t in the Tomb anymore, the paralytic isn’t at the Pool anymore! The LORD isn’t in the Tomb because He is risen! The paralytic isn’t at the Pool anymore because he has been raised by the LORD who is standing before him. Standing before him means that the LORD has come to the paralytic in His resurrection.
Should we flee in terror again? The Psalmist would tell us, there’s no point! ‘If you ascend to heaven, well, of course the LORD is there! But, now, if you make your bed in Sheol (the place of death), lo! the LORD is there, too, because He has made it the place of His Sabbath Rest and the Gate of His resurrection!’ (Ps 139.8)
So, what is this sign of the paralytic teaching us about the resurrection of Christ? The Church herself tells us. ‘The paralytic carried the weight of his bed as a testimony (a sign) to the abundance of the LORD’s compassions.’ (Tues Matins, Praises, P185a)
But, we do not catch the full, the cosmic import of this until we consider the sign of the paralytic himself. The paralytic looks very much like a corpse. Indeed, the Church describes him as, ‘an unburied dead man.’ (Mon Matins & Vespers, P181a,182b). As such, the paralytic is an image of Adam, and therefore of me and of you; of all mankind. For, like Adam enslaved to death his whole life long (Heb 2.15), this man was bound by paralysis, making him ‘an unburied dead man’ for a long time, as it says. (Jn 5.6)
The healing of the paralytic is a sign of the LORD, in the abundance of His compassions, healing the ills [not of some only but] of all men (P178b), and not just our bodily infirmities but the infirmity of our heart where we were dead in our sins and trespasses. (Eph 2.1) That is to say: ‘Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death and upon those in the tombs bestowing life!’
We see a sign of the LORD’s saving compassion in virtually every particular of this morning’s healing at the pool, beginning with the very name of the pool, Bethesda: ‘House of Mercy.’ If the pool corresponds to the LORD’s Tomb from last Sunday, then behold the power of the LORD’s Holy Pascha: He has transfigured the Tomb into a ‘House of Mercy’! There was a multitude of sick people filling the five porches of the Pool of Bethesda, it says. The pool is a sign, an image of Hades. It is the ‘region of death’ in whose dark shadow all of mankind sat (Mt 4.16, Is 9.1-2), whether dead or alive, like this morning’s paralytic.
But, this morning, we see not an angel but the LORD Himself coming down, in the flesh. We see Him standing, risen, before the paralytic as before Adam and the whole race of men, standing before the multitude of sick people in the same Body in which He was crucified.
The risen LORD is not a phantom; He is not a ‘religious concept,’ a symbol of mythology. Nor is this a reincarnation. The ‘holy and incorruptible preaching’ of the apostles is the only true Gospel because it proclaims that the LORD Jesus Christ is truly risen from the dead in the flesh, in our flesh that He has made to be His own flesh. In the death and resurrection of Christ’s Holy Pascha, our nature—the nature in which we all exist with Him—has been changed at its root. The prophets themselves saw this and prophesied about it (Ps 51. 10, Eze 36.26, e.g.). In the LORD’s new Tomb (Jn 19.41), our heart of stone was rolled away and made clean and new, raised up as a heart of flesh. We are no longer rooted in the dust of the ground, in the death of the grave. Our nature—and so, every one of us, believer and unbeliever—is now rooted in the crucified and risen Body of the LORD. We have been made to be flesh and blood kinfolk of God. Our roots now go down not back into the dust but into the Living Waters, the Holy Spirit, of the LORD Jesus Christ, the Mighty River of Resurrection and Life who poured into the Tomb, into our tomb, as Ezekiel foretold. For, surely, the LORD’s Tomb is the ‘Arabah’ (the Dead Sea) that Ezekiel saw; and, as the Mighty River of Ezekiel’s vision, the crucified God, by His death, heals and makes to live everything He touches. (Eze 47.8-12)
The risen LORD coming to the pool this morning, then, is the sign of His descending into hell, into that region and shadow of death that encompasses all of us, a descent that began with His conception in the womb of the most blessed Virgin. ‘The WORD Incarnate,’ it says in one of our hymns for this morning, ‘dwelt in the midst of men.’ (P178b) He dwelt in our human nature as though our nature is the Pool of Bethesda—and so it is, if the LORD now dwells in it. Our nature has become the House of Mercy, the House of the LORD of Mercy. Not an angel but the uncreated Light of God (Jn 1.4, e.g.), Jesus Christ, came to those sitting in the ‘pool’ of the region and shadow of death (Mt 4.16) because, ‘in His love, He willed to restore fallen, mortal man.’ (P178b)
The waters of Bethesda were troubled from time to time. But, on Great and Holy Friday, the earth quaked, rocks were split, graves were opened when the LORD Himself descended into Hades as into the Pool of Bethesda once for all. He plundered Hades, the Church cries out in the hymns for this morning. He emptied the graves. (P176b) He emptied the Pool of death and given not just healing but life, and not just to one person here and there; but, as we sing on Pascha night, to all those who were in the tombs. That is, to the whole multitude of sick people who were lying in the porches of Bethesda.
What was the Pool of Bethesda filled with sickness and death He has emptied of sickness and death. Filling it with the uncreated Light and Life of His Holy Spirit who heals all things (Jn 1.4), He has transfigured it into the true ‘House of Mercy’ and filled it with the healing Light of the ‘Resurrection and the Life,’ that is, with Himself, for ‘Resurrection and Life’ is another of His Names that He revealed to Mary and Martha, and so to us, at the tomb of Lazarus. (Jn 11.25)! ‘Thou wast lifted upon the Tree of the Cross and didst raise the whole world (the dimension of space) together with Thyself; and becoming One among the dead, O God, Thou didst raise up them that were dead from ages past (the dimension of time).’ (P169a) We hear it spelled out in the hymns for this morning that this means us: ‘Having risen from the dead, Thou didst raise us up also from the passions by Thy Resurrection.’ (P177b) That means us and all our loved ones and all our kinfolk.
The beauty of this religious poetry is majestic and powerful because it is a sign, an icon, a mirror that reflects a mystical reality that’s really there; the mystical reality that our human nature has been fundamentally changed, once and for all, in the mystery of the LORD’s Tomb and of God’s Sabbath Rest. It gives us another metaphor, another image for grasping the mystery of our salvation in Christ alongside the metaphor of the LORD’s Tomb as a mountain. The metaphor of the LORD’s Tomb as a mountain reveals the adventure our daily life is. In the LORD, our daily life becomes an Exodus to the top of the mountain where we come to His Tomb, the Gate through which we pass out of this world and into the deep of the LORD’s eternal salvation.
That metaphor, however, may be discouraging to some of us because we might take it to mean that salvation is something hard to get to, hard to attain. It’s useful for helping us understand that we must work out our salvation in fear and trembling. We can’t just continue to lie on our bed and think we are ‘saved’. Like the paralytic, we have to take up our bed and walk; we have to take up our cross to follow Christ into His Tomb at the top of the Mountain.
But, this sign of the paralytic this morning gives us another metaphor of salvation, that of a deep pool, like an artesian well of Living Water gurgling and overflowing with joy deep within all of us, the whole of mankind, deep in our heart at that ‘point’ where we begin to be and where we open onto the eternal. This metaphor shows salvation to be immediately accessible because we’re already in it.
Our human nature is the Pool of Bethesda, the House of Mercy; and it was stirred, it was shaken, it was moved, it was changed in its depths forever on the Night that God died on the Cross; for, the Seed of the Resurrection and the Life descended down to our nature’s very bottom, and became absolutely one with us in our death and in our hell. The WORD that Moses spoke is now fulfilled beyond the expectation even of angels: ‘The WORD [the LORD Himself] is very near you, in your mouth, and in your heart,’ because He became flesh; and, in our flesh He descended into our death and into our hell; and, in our flesh, He rose from the dead, destroying death by death, so that, as the LORD says through Moses, ‘you can do it!’ (Dt 30.14)
The two metaphors, of course, are of the same mystery. The LORD is Himself the Path. He is the Way as the Mighty River of Living Water who carries us up the mountain into His Tomb, transfigured now into the Font of eternal Life, the Gate that opens onto the Kingdom of Heaven at the top of the Mountain. We need only to live in that Mighty River and it will carry us to the top of the Mountain. And we can do it because we are in it; it is in us. And, we can do it not just for ourselves, but for our loved ones and kinfolk! For, this is the whole point! The divine Seed of Resurrection and Life is in you, but not in you only. Christ our eternal salvation is deep in the very ground of your being that you now share with Him and with the whole of mankind, with your loved ones, your kinfolk, even your enemy!
In the vision of the Church’s ‘holy and incorruptible preaching,’ the question I ask myself is this: where am I in my inner man? That is, in my soul, am I living out here on the surface of this life and letting myself get ensnared by my body’s sensual desires? Am I living in my feelings so that I’m at the mercy of whatever mood, emotion or passion is washing over me at the moment? Am I living in my head, prancing about in my musings and speculations in the dreamy halls of castles in the sky?
If my desire is to live in the beauty and majesty and power of this eternal salvation, this eternal joy, this eternal life of the LORD that is within me, then let my feet be on the ground and let my mind be always living in the Living Waters that are within the LORD’s ‘House of Mercy’ that I have now become. Let me arrange my immediate surroundings, let me be discriminating in the entertainments and diversions I allow myself, and let me clothe myself with prayer in a size that fits me, and let my inner conversation always be with the LORD who is in me, so that in both my outer and inner man, I’m always descending into the Mighty River of the LORD that is ever ascending to His eternal salvation at the top of the mountain. Let me be diligent to call on Him when I’m in trouble or afraid or anxious, so that I seek refuge under His wings and not in princes or sons of men in whom there is no salvation. Let the LORD’s ‘holy and incorruptible preaching’ be the teacher of my soul so that, through His apostolic Church, He can teach me and help me to live not in myself but in the Christ whose Living Waters of eternal salvation are in me, raising me up to His Tomb at the top of His Holy Mountain, through the Gate of eternal life, and into the beyond! Amen!