37 - Fourth Sunday of Pascha, The Paralytic, May 26, 2013

Acts 9:32-42

John 5:1-15

“Rise, take up your bed and walk!” says the Savior to the paralytic. “Take up your cross and follow me,” (Mk 8:34) he says to those who would follow Him. The paralytic’s bed looks like the cross the Lord is calling him to take up.

In the hymns for the Exaltation of the Cross on Sept 14 the wood of the cross seems clearly to be associated with our human nature. It would be our human nature in all the infirmities and disorders of body and soul that it is riddled with.

The hymns for the Elevation of the Cross reveal a deep, theological meaning in the Lord’s voluntary submission to being nailed to the wood of the cross. It is an “epiphany”, a “showing forth” that He has completely and unconditionally joined Himself to our human nature so that its fate becomes His “fate”; but, it means also that His “fate” is made to be the fate of the human nature He has joined to Himself. Here, we open onto the profoundly glorious meaning of Christ’s bodily resurrection. His bodily resurrection means that the human nature He joined to Himself is raised with Him in the glory of His Holy Resurrection, and it is transfigured. It is made victorious over death to become immortal and godlike; i.e. deified! The wooden cross of our human nature, riddled with sickness, deformities, maladies and infirmities of body and soul of all kinds and doomed to death, becomes a jeweled cross: it is glorified and deified in the death and Resurrection of Christ not only in its immaterial soul but also in its material body, healed of all its sickness and made immortal. Our human nature in both body and soul is raised from death; and immediately, as it says in this morning’s Gospel, it is glorified. This is its real and true health and wholeness, for Christ in His Holy Pascha has healed the human nature He joined to Himself from the sickness of death; and, He has restored it to its original beauty, clothed in the Robe of God’s own uncreated Light, and He has become the Life it lives.

St Paul tells us that before Christ raised us up from the baptismal font and made us spiritually alive, we were dead in our sins and trespasses; and in our sins and trespasses, we walked according to the ruler and the ethos (the aeon) of this world, and according to the power of the air, which is the spirit of disobedience that works in this present age in the sons of disobedience. He is saying, I think, that when we were outside of Christ – and for that matter, whenever even we who have been united to Christ in baptism place ourselves outside of Christ by our thoughts, words and actions – when we are outside of Christ, we are like the paralytic. We walk, we live, not in the Spirit but under the dark cloud of spiritual death. We breathe its toxic air and we become sick with the symptoms of death, such symptoms as gluttony, lust, anger, greed, envy. These symptoms of death paralyze us so that we cannot and even do not want to walk in the Spirit. We begin to love the darkness more than the light because our deeds are dark, while a vague uneasiness settles in our soul, the face of an inner dread of being alone in a dark, eternal night of the soul that is itself the face of our spiritual death. From our soul that has become a spiritual corpse buried deep in the tomb of our heart there emanate noxious fumes that dissolve into the air our conscious life breathes, making us anxious, agitated, irritable, unsatifisfied. Our erotic desire that is divine and holy because it originates in God becomes perverted and deformed in the stultifying air our soul now breathes and we become sick with the symptoms of the spiritual death that enslaves us: the inner symptoms of lust, anger, greed, arrogance, presumption and envy that blossom into the many psychological disorders that belie the perfumery and make-up of our nicely coiffed façade; the outer symptoms of masturbation, addiction to pornography fornication, adultery, homosexuality, slander, murder and theft and all kinds of abnormal and perverse behaviors that we begin to see as normal because in the darkness of our spiritual death, we can no longer see the Image of God in whom we were made who is the true measure of human health and wholeness.

Note well, then, that the Lord does not say to the paralytic: “Leave your bed behind,” but, “Take up your bed and walk!” The bed of the paralytic, as the paralytic’s cross, is the paralytic’s human nature, and ours, that is so riddled in soul and body with maladies of all kinds. The Lord’s command is to take up our human nature precisely in its sickness in order to bring it all the way to the tomb of the Lord’s Pascha; that is to say, to bring our soul and body all the way to the tomb of our heart.

Remember, that a very large and heavy stone had been rolled across the opening of the Lord’s tomb to seal it. Remember that guards were set to guard the tomb, hoping to keep the tomb closed tight so that the dead body would stay inside. Yet, when the angel came down from heaven and rolled the stone away, the soldiers became as though they were dead, as though this world where they were living was a tomb. The myrrh-bearing women, on the other hand, and the holy disciples, entered the tomb and, as is evident in the fear, terror and joy that came upon them, they became as though they were alive; for, the Resurrection of Christ became the heavenly reality living in their worldly life, a light not of this world shining in the darkness of this world that the darkness of this world cannot put out.

I see the Lord’s command to the paralytic, to take up his bed and walk to mean this: take up your cross and follow Christ to the tomb of your heart. Let’s say that the disorders and complexes of our soul, the holy fathers call them sins or passions, are the stench that emanate from the spiritual corpse of our soul buried in the tomb of our heart behind the “very large stone”. Our self-justifications, our rationalizations and blame-shifting, our projections onto others of the stench that emanates from us, let’s say that these are the guards we have placed at the tomb of our heart to keep our dead soul from coming out and making trouble for us. To be sure, modern medicine can go a long way to ease the pain and discomfort of the bodily infirmities that afflict us, and even the psychological disorders that trouble us, but it cannot roll the stone away from the tomb of our heart and touch the corpse of our soul that is buried there to heal it and to raise it from death to life. Only Christ can do that, because only Christ is true God who has become true Man. He is the Greatly-Compassionate One, the Only Lover of Mankind. And to Him who has destroyed death by His death has all power been given in heaven and on earth: this is not the power of tyranny and coercion that makes you do what He wants you to do against your will. It is the power of divine love that alone has the power to create life from nothing and when, we had fallen and become paralyzed, unable to live and walk in the Spirit of Him who is Light from Light, to raise us from death to life and to give us the life that is not of this world, the Life of the Holy Spirit, to make even us who were spiritually dead in our sins and trespasses children of God born of the Spirit from above.

That is to say, we don’t follow Christ by trumpeting pious assertions or indulging in sentimental feelings or satisfying ourselves with religious formalism while we leave our human nature behind that is paralyzed in the sicknesses of soul and body that are unto death. We follow Christ by taking up our bed, our cross, our body and soul that are sick unto death with all the symptoms of death. That means that we follow Christ by practicing inner vigilance in the confession of our sins, the confession of all the symptoms of death that we begin to see in the light of the Holy Spirit who begins to shine in our hearts when we receive Christ in faith through the sacraments of the Church. We practice the ascetic disciplines of the cross – prayer, fasting, acts of mercy – in the spirit of humility and contrition, because by these ascetic disciplines of the cross, the same operation of Christ’s Cross becomes active in us and we begin to crucify the spirit of disobedience that before was active in us, paralyzing us, making us spiritually dead and producing in us all the symptoms of spiritual death. This is how we walk; this is how we put on Christ, how we unite ourselves to Christ, how we take up our Cross, our bed, to follow Christ all the way to the tomb of our heart.

Then, in the tomb of our heart, in our paralysis, in our spiritual death, like the paralytic we hear the Lord say: “Rise, take up your bed and walk!” Heaven comes down and rolls the stone away that sealed the tomb of our heart. The guards become as dead men. The sins and trespasses that guarded the tomb of our heart, hoping to keep our soul buried there, they become as though they are dead. That is to say, they no more have power over us. The tomb of our heart has become a bridal chamber radiant with the light of the Heavenly Bridegroom, Christ our God, in the heavenly Light and Lifeof His Holy Resurrection.

Ah! But, let us remember the liturgical season we are in! When we take up our bed now, and walk and follow Christ, we are following Him from the tomb of His Holy Resurrection as from the Font of Immortality to the mountain of His Holy Ascension. Our sojourn through the wilderness of this worldly life is transfigured into a pilgrimage from the tomb of the baptismal font to the mountain of Christ’s Ascension. Outwardly we are dying; inwardly we are living in Christ, or rather, Christ is living in us and our dying becomes the death of the spiritual death that paralyzes us.

Beloved faithful, the risen Christ is in our midst asking us in our spiritual paralysis: “Do you want to be made well?” Let us receive Christ! May He touch our soul in the tomb of our heart and raise us up in His Holy Resurrection that we may walk to the mountain of His Holy Ascension in the joy of His Holy Spirit who has raised us from our bed as children of God, children of Light, children of the Resurrection of Christ! Amen!