Below is the text for this Sunday morning's sermon. It will be posted on our St Herman's YouTube channel at 1030 am on Sunday morning, May 24, 2020. Click here to view the YouTube recording: https://youtu.be/V19N_Z1Ryco
John 20.11-18 (Matins)
Again, the sign is a healing on the Sabbath! ‘Neither this man nor his parents sinned,’ Our LORD says. How are we to understand this word? The Psalmist, for example, says, inspired by the same LORD; ‘There is none who is righteous, no not one.’ (Ps 53.3)
The LORD’s word takes me back to Isaiah: ‘On those sitting in the region and shadow of death a Light has risen.’ (Isa 9.1; Mt 4.16) From this, the man’s blindness comes into view as an image of the spiritual darkness of death that envelops all of us because, turning again to Isaiah, we have all like sheep gone astray. (Isa 53.6)
So, it’s not because of some sin of this man or his parents that he is blind; but, looking now to St Paul, he suffers from blindness because what it signifies, death, entered the world through the sin of Adam and spread to all men. (Rm 5.12) Sin, then, is not just a moral transgression. Sin is spiritual blindness that came into the world through the disobedience of the one man, through Adam (Rm 5.12). Sin, spiritual blindness, is what we all ‘live’ in. And, it manifests itself in symptoms of sickness, maladies and disorders of body and soul of all kinds, and finally in death (Rm 6.23).
All of us, then, are born blind. All of us are ‘sitting in the region and shadow of death.’ We live not in the Spirit of God but in the biological life of our sexuality, which in our blindness we see as ‘life’. But, in the life of our sexuality, death envelops all of us from the moment we are conceived. In the darkness of the death that we live in, we all sin, we all stumble off the path of righteousness in our spiritual blindness. We have all gone our own way.
All of us, then, were ‘born blind,’ not because of our sin or that of our parents—although, to be sure, we have sinned—but because of the death, the spiritual blindness, that envelops all of us. The Pharisees in today’s Gospel demonstrate this. Their physical eyes were not blind but their spiritual eyes were.
This brings us to the rest of the LORD’s WORD to His disciples: ‘[He is blind] so that the works of God might be made manifest in him.’ The emphasis of the LORD’s word, it seems to me, isn’t on the man’s blindness as a punishment for some unknown sin. It’s on the ‘works’ of God that the LORD is about to make manifest in healing the blind man. What are those works?
In Holy Scripture, this word, ‘works’ (erga), refers to God creating the heavens and the earth from which He rests on the Sabbath. (e.g., Gn 2.2-3) Moreover, Genesis 2 reads as though it is within His Sabbath Rest that God proceeds to fashion man from the clay. In St John, it refers at the same time to the work the LORD is doing with His Father (e.g., Jn 5.17) to ‘finish’ the creation through His death on the Cross and His Sabbath Rest in the Tomb, and in His Resurrection from the dead. (Jn 19.30) We see this in how the Savior gives sight to the man born blind. He created, it says (same word is used in Gn 1.1), with His spittle some wet clay and anointed (chrismated) the man’s eyes with it. This takes us to Gen 2.7, when God fashioned man from the clay and breathed on Him the Holy Spirit, making the clay ‘wet’ with God’s ‘Living Waters’, so that man became a ‘living’ soul.
As a ‘sign’ of the LORD’s Holy Pascha, the healing of the blind man on the Sabbath reveals what happened in the Paschal mystery of the LORD’s death and resurrection. In His Sabbath Rest, He refashioned our body this time not from the earth but from His own ‘spittle,’ an image of His Holy Spirit now soaking our body in the LORD’s Incarnation. The healing of the blind man reveals that in His death and resurrection, in His Sabbath Rest, the LORD healed our spiritual blindness. He destroyed our death by His death, and in His Sabbath Rest, He raised us to life who were in the tombs. From His Sabbath Rest, He now shines as a Great Light on us sitting in the region and shadow of death.
It’s with this same Paschal meaning that He says to the Pharisees who insisted they were not blind: ‘‘I came into the world for judgment. I came that [all] those who are blind might see.’ This goes back, I think, to the opening of John’s Gospel. ‘The LORD is the True Light coming into the world.’ (Jn 1.9) Note that the Light that the LORD Jesus is, is the Life of men (Jn 1.4). This Light that is our Life became flesh and dwelt within us, says St John (en umin, Jn 1.14). He didn’t just come to us, as He did the prophets and righteous of the OT. He came into us. Even more than that: He became flesh and blood. God the WORD Himself became a Man so that the Man, Jesus Christ, is God; and in Jesus Christ, Man is one with God. But, even more than that: as Man, sharing in our flesh and blood, God shared in our death (Heb 2.14-15), so that the Son of God became one with us in our death shone the Light of His Resurrection and Life on us who were in the darkness of our spiritual blindness.
Catch the power of this biblical doctrine of God becoming flesh and dwelling in us. It is the doctrine of Moses, the Psalmist, the prophets and the holy apostles. It is the ‘LORD’s ‘holy and incorruptible preaching of eternal salvation’ that He has sent, through His apostles, from the East, from His Holy Resurrection, all the way to the West, into the darkness of hell. Leaning again on St Paul as our teacher: death spread through all men through the sin of one man. But, Life and Light, Resurrection and Life (Jn 11.25), God Himself spread through all men through the one God-Man, the LORD Jesus Christ (Rm 5.17) when He became flesh and shared with us in our death. The ‘healing’ of ‘His wings’ (Mal 4.2) spread through our nature as the antidote to the deadly toxin of the serpent in His Sabbath Rest. He came into the world as the Light that illumines ‘those sitting in darkness;’ as the Resurrection and the Life that shines on those sitting in the shadow of death. He came into our death, our blindness, and by His death, He destroyed the spiritual darkness of our death, and, in His Sabbath Rest, His Life shone on all of us who were in the tombs.
The LORD, then, comes to the man born blind in judgment. We have already explained, way back on the pre-Lenten Sundays, that the Seat of the LORD’s Judgment of the world is His Cross; and the sentence of His Judgment is, ‘Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.’ I feel we can take the healing of the man born blind to mean that the Judgment of the LORD has come into the world in the form of the Light of His Resurrection, the Light of His own presence among us—for He is Himself the Resurrection and the Life. The LORD comes into the world to do the ‘works’ of God, which is to finish the creation so that those who receive His Judgment, receive the healing of their spiritual blindness and are made able to see in the Light and Life of His eternal salvation.
So, why does He send the man to wash in the Pool of Siloam? Clearly, this is an image of baptism. Why did the jailer and his household want to be baptized? Because Baptism is not a superfluous symbol. It is to be united to Christ in the likeness of His death and resurrection, in His Sabbath Rest. When one is forgiven of one’s sins, when one receives the healing of the LORD’s judgment, one’s soul comes alive with love for Christ and one yearns to become one with Him. Baptism, then, union with Christ, is what the soul who loves Christ longs for. It is not a symbol, a one and done event. Uniting us to Christ, baptism anchors our whole life from this day onward in the LORD’s Pascha. It transfigures our life into a daily carrying in our body the death of Jesus so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body (2 Cor 4.10). That is, by working out (from the same word as ‘works’) our salvation in fear and trembling (Phil 2.12) and putting to death our earthly members—fornication, impurity, passion, evil desire, covetousness or greed, which is idolatry (Col 3.5)—we are going to the pool of Siloam to wash, we are descending daily into the LORD’s empty Tomb. As we thereby ‘lose our life for the sake of Christ,’ we become one with Him in the tomb of our heart that becomes, in our union with Him, empty; for, in Christ, we are not found among the dead anymore. God the Father who through His Holy Spirit raised Jesus from the dead gives life to our mortal bodies, also, through the Spirit of Christ who now dwells in us. (Rom 8.11) Now our daily life becomes a partaking of the LORD’s Holy Pascha. Our life is transfigured into a daily ascent from glory to glory with Christ in His Glorious Ascension as daily we die and rise with Him.
What is your blindness that keeps you from seeing God who is ‘right there’ as He was with the blind man this morning? Are we like the Pharisees, unable to see God right there next to us, even in us, because we’re looking for God among the dead: in our own ideas, the pleasures of the flesh, our own pre-conceived expectations?
It comes to me that when I am beset by a temptation, either from the world outside of me, or from some old habit or passion inside of me, that is a moment when the LORD’s Judgment is coming to me in the form of His healing and life-giving Light shining from the Tomb of His Sabbath Rest (Lk 23.54: ‘It was the day of Preparation, and the [light of the] Sabbath was beginning to dawn (epifosken)’). I choose not to receive His Judgment in that moment if I choose to give in to the temptation. I then remain in my blindness, my darkness, my sin, my death, as did the Pharisees this morning. But, I receive His Judgment in that moment if I choose to go and wash in the pool of Siloam; that is, if I choose to fight the temptation and not give in to it. Now, I am taking up my cross to follow Christ. Now, I am choosing to lose my life for the sake of Christ. Now I am putting my trust not in princes or sons of men but in the LORD who is ‘in me’ (Col 1.27), right there next to me as He was to the man born blind. Now, I am working out my salvation in fear and trembling. Now, in real, every-day terms, I am working to put to death what’s earthly in me: fornication, immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, greed, anger, malice, slander, abusive speech. (Col 3.5&8) This is how I receive the LORD’s Judgment, which is the Healing of His eternal salvation, and come into the Light of His Resurrection that is shining on me sitting in the region and shadow of death. This is how my spiritual eyes begin to open so that I who was blind now can see, and rise with Him who is my hope of glory, my hope of eternal salvation, in the Glory of His Ascension. Amen!