Saturday, May 14, 2011
The fourth Sunday of Pascha is that of the Paralytic where we read from the Gospel according to St. John (5:1-15) about the man who wanted so greatly to be placed in the pool of Bethezda when it was stirred up so that he may be cured of his ailments. I've been told that this Gospel is read, along with that of the sixth Sunday of Pascha, that of the blind man, to remind us that Christ's Resurrection is not strictly a legal matter, but also a matter of healing the body as well from the infirmity we know as sin. Yet, when rereading the account, I have to reply to it as do many students of literature, "Yes...but."
Paralysis does not have to be strictly a bodily condition. Three weeks ago, the Church celebrated our Lord's Pascha, His triumph over death and the evil one and our triumph with Him as He carried our ancestors out of Hades. Since that Sunday, we have chanted, said, prayed the Paschal Troparion, "Christ is Risen from the dead trampling down death by death and upon those in the tombs bestowing life" over and over and over. Every service starts out with the chanting of this hymn three times and every service concludes with it not counting the number of times it is substituted for another hymn. Three weeks later, many of us, and I'm including myself here, are paralyzed by this hymn. It becomes now almost a rote exercise and my enthusiasm which greeted the Pascha morning has ebbed.
Considering the Gospel account, the Paralytic by the pool had great faith. He had been there for 38 years with the great hope that even he could be cured. He waited patiently. But, his bodily ailment, his paralysis, kept him from acting on his faith. I can only speak for myself, but after a few weeks it seems that chanting, praying, saying "Christ is Risen" becomes hollow. I say the words; I know the words; I believe the words but I don't act in accordance with what those words mean. I have become like the paralytic in that I have a great hope, a great faith, but my actions, or lack of action, prevents my faith from being a living faith.
I believe that the fathers of the church were wise men. I think that they too realized that most people would probably be caught up in the joy of Pascha and then, not soon after, that joy would begin to ebb and they would forget. Such is why I think that this particular Gospel is placed here and the Sunday of the Blind Man is the last Sunday of Pascha. We are reminded that though our faith has ebbed or that we have become blind to the realities of what our Lord has done for us, He still calls us back to Himself. He invites us to repentance, invites us to eat and drink of His very self.
Another thing to really consider is that the paralytic says he has no one to help him into the healing waters. After Pascha and Lent, our fasting and vigor and increased prayer often make us believe that we can do it all by ourselves. Then we stumble and fall and then become despondent. But, as Christ came for the Paralytic, He still comes for us. And He knows our faith and will do unto us according to it. Three weeks following Pascha our ego often gets the better of us. Ego is the enemy of love. Ego is stubborn and isolationist. It is paralyzing. But Christ is always there to remind us that we can't do this alone and that we shouldn't do this alone.
So as much as we want to become complacent singing "Christ is risen" for the 100th time this weekend, let us be cured from our paralysis and sing those words with the same exuberance and joy we did three weeks ago. And let us be joyful that we have such a helper to reclaim that joy in our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. We celebrate for forty days, not seven and then take a week off and maybe celebrate halfheartedly for another 26 days. We should celebrate every single day we are alive since death no longer has victory over us. Easier said than done, I realize, but admitting there is a problem or obstacle, that's a beginning to be healed.