A new world order.

Homily 595 – 4th Pascha
Holy Transfiguration, Ames, Iowa
May 26, 2024
Epistle:  (23) – Acts 9:32-43
Gospel:  (14) – John 5:1-15

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  Christ is risen!

One hymn in particular for this feast is always striking to me.  At the “Lord, I call …” last night at Vespers, we hear this hymn:

The Paralytic was like an unburied corpse.
He saw You and shouted: “Lord, have mercy on me!
My bed has become my grave!  Why should I live?
What use is the Sheep’s Pool to me?
I have no one to put me into the pool when the waters are stirred.
I come to You, O Fountain of healing.
Raise me up, that with all I may cry to You://
‘Glory to You, O Almighty Lord!’”

Thirty-eight years.  Thirty-eight years of being completely dependent on someone else for every aspect of life.  He tells Christ that he has no one to put him into the pool when the water is stirred.  But what else is he unable to do for himself?

Eat.  Go to the bathroom.  Change the view.  Go to someone’s house for dinner.  Get an education.  Learn a skill or trade.  Go to the temple and pray.

Indeed, an unburied corpse, because this was not in any way life.  And Christ changed it all.

Think about that change – not the healing itself, but what life would be like after healing.  No longer dependent on others.  At the same time, no skills or abilities to provide for yourself.

We sometimes can imagine the opposite.  What would happen if we were paralyzed in an accident?  What if we became a quadriplegic?  Even the thought of that significant of a life change strikes fear in the heart of most of us.

We fear even less significant changes.  What if I lost my job?  What if my car breaks down?  What if (as we feared this Friday) our refrigerator needs to be replaced?

OK, maybe not the best – we get through.

But if the thought of those changes strikes so much fear in our heart that much, can we expect the opposite to be somehow less fearful?

There is of course the initial joy that comes with physical healing.  The paralytic takes up his mat, on which he has laid for 38 years, and goes – where?  Home?  Did he have a home?  Did he have a place to go?

The joy of healing quickly turns to fear.  Where will I go?  What will I do?  How will I survive?  Life after healing is daunting, even scary.

We all experience that healing through Christ.  We all are paralyzed by our interior struggle, even the lack of a struggle, with ourselves.  We are all lifeless until Christ heals us.

And when St. Paul tells us to work out our salvation with fear and trembling, I think it is exactly this fear he is describing.  The fear of living in a new world, where we don’t understand the rules, we don’t understand the motivation, the activity, or the purpose.

We just don’t understand anything about it.  It isn’t intuitive.

We may see our enlightenment, our illumination, our baptism, as the end.  But dear ones, it is only the beginning.  The very beginning.  The beginning of a new life.  The Church is here to help you navigate this new world.  To hold your hand, and direct your steps.

As an aside, this was one of the primary reasons I converted from Protestantism, specifically Southern Baptist, to Orthodoxy.  The Baptists, and most expressions of faith that reject tradition, had nothing to offer as I was trying to navigate this new world around me.

The Orthodox Church has this framework.  First, though, we have to understand what this new world looks like.  What has changed?  Really, in truth, nothing has changed.  However everything has changed.

Before our healing we were paralyzed because we didn’t see the reality around us correctly.  We are fallen, and didn’t perceive the creation the way it really was.  We would say that the world is cruel.  But it wasn’t – we were cruel, not the world.

Now we are leaning to see things as they really are.  The things we pursued before – wealth, fame, power – the things we thought would bring us life, didn’t.  Seeing things correctly we see that our primary focus is communion with God, through worship and being in His presence.

We see that the most important thing in this life, the only real thing in this life, is removing our ego, crucifying it, and living in and for and by God.  We live in love and peace.

Removing our ego, we will no longer covet what others have and we may not have.  We will not be jealous.  We will love.  That is the objective at least.  We will still need to work, but our status will not be important.  Our fame will not be important, our power will be seen not as a benefit, but has a curse to our salvation.

Like the paralytic, we have to learn to live in a new world now.  The things that mattered before don’t matter to us now.  And things that didn’t matter are now absolutely critical.

So, even though Lent is past and the new life in Christ is in front of us, our life doesn’t change that much.  We still need to deny ourselves, practice asceticism, pray, give alms, and control our bodily desires and passions.

We can do that now, in the presence of the Risen Lord, and again at Pentecost with the Holy Spirit, and beyond.  We can do that now in the spirit of humility – the spirit that we don’t know what is best for us.

We can take God at His word – knowing that the most important aspects of our lives are now open to us – to love God, and to love one another.

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, One God.  Christ is risen.