The living dead?
Homily 358 – 4th Sunday of Pascha (Paralytic)
Holy Transfiguration Orthodox Church, Ames, Iowa
May 19, 2019
Epistle: (23) – Acts 9:32-43
Gospel: (14) – John 5:1-15
Christ is risen! Xristos Voskrese! Xhristos Anesthi! In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, One God.
We are the paralytic. It sounds far-fetched, perhaps, but we are the paralytic.
In the hymns at vespers last night, we heard this explicitly.
I should say: the Church interprets scripture for us primarily in the hymnography of the Church. The hymns at vespers, the canons and hymns of matins – if you ever want to know what the Church believes about something, look at the hymns. What we pray is what we believe.
So to understand the paralytic – beyond the narrative description of events – we look at the hymnography.
In the “Lord, I call …” verses at vespers we first recognize that we are in the Paschal season. The verses remind us that Christ has conquered – in the words of the hymn:
Christ descended to Hades proclaiming the glad tidings:
“Behold! Now I have triumphed!
I am the Resurrection, I will lead you out,
for I have shattered the gates of death!”
Shattering the gates of death – an interesting phrase. We are imprisoned by death and corruption. When life is removed, when the source of life is removed, we begin to die. We begin to corrupt – that is to decay.
The image is that of being locked in a prison. And Christ has not only opened the gates of that prison, he has shattered the gates themselves. We are free to go.
If we choose to leave. Christ doesn’t kick us out of death – rather, we have the opportunity to leave. We leave by following Christ. Sounds simple – Christ is leaving, we follow Him.
Yet, we turn around from time to time, as Lot’s wife from the carnage of Sodom and Gomorrah. And we then need to repent and look forward toward Christ, not back toward death.
Because where we look is where we go. Where we focus our attention is the direction we go.
Focusing our attention on Christ, we can then follow Him – as He said, by denying ourselves, picking up our cross – which is our asceticism – and moving. Acting.
The hymns then focus on the paralytic. First, the stage is set for us:
With Your pure hand, You created man;
You came to heal the sick, O compassionate Christ.
By Your word You raised the paralytic at the Sheep’s Pool,
Heal the sick – but look at the word used to describe what happened to the paralytic. He wasn’t healed, he was raised. Like one raised from the dead.
A later hymn verse adds to this description.
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?
What use is a miracle that cannot be accessed? The paralytic may as well have been anywhere – because wherever he was, he was dead. Like an unburied corpse. The bed has become his grave.
But – thankfully – Christ destroys the gates of death, allowing us to leave. Allowing the paralytic to leave.
This is where we also find ourselves. Like the paralytic, we are disconnected from the source of life. We are separated from God. We are unburied corpses.
We try to connect with things – entertainment, physical pleasure, power, fame – things that promise to make us feel as if we are alive. But those things cannot. That is the great lie.
That is why the euphoria of earthly pleasures is so very fleeting. It is why love endures when like goes away or when physical intimacy is not satisfying.
Thankfully, if we recognize that we are in death but no longer bound by it, we can leave! We are set free.
When elephants are trained in the circus, they are staked by a heavy chain to the ground. That chain is placed around their ankle. They learn they can’t escape.
After a while, the chain no longer needs to be staked in the ground. The elephant feels the chain, and accepts that they cannot move. And they don’t. The elephant stays put, with only a chain bracelet around it’s ankle.
For us it is similar – the chains have bound us – but Christ has broken those chains and we are now free! We can move about – we can skip, run, and even dance!
Christ is in fact risen! Christ through His death has destroyed the power of death – even the influence of death.
The downside is the realization that if we remain in death, it is by our own decision and choice. We cannot blame anyone other than ourselves.
Brothers and sisters, we are no longer bound by death. We no longer need to stay there. The doors have been smashed and destroyed. We can walk freely, and follow Christ out of the place of death.
We no longer need to have someone place us into the pool when the baptismal waters stir – because Christ is risen, and death no longer holds us.
We simply need to change our decision, and follow Christ.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, One God. Christ is Risen!