On the night of Holy and Great Pascha we stood in our dark churches prepared to receive the “Light from the unwaning light” and begin our celebration. For those few moments our eyes were fixed on the candle coming from the Holy of Holies, spreading from person to person until the Church was ablaze with light. For those few moments we didn’t even notice the darkness outside the Church, and our hearts were lifted up into heaven as we sang Christ is Risen from dead.
I have always appreciated the freedom I have to preach on Sunday from the lectionary of the Church. I don’t choose which Gospel is read, nor do I choose which “theme” is emphasized on any given Sunday. If the Church lists the Gospel of the Samaritan Woman, that is the Gospel, and I will preach on it and so will every other Orthodox Christian Church in the world. I also find it quite freeing that I am not left to my own imagination when it comes to how the Holy Scriptures are to be interpreted. If the Church says it means something, then it means THAT, not what I think it might mean.
This past Sunday the Church spoke to us about healing, in ourselves and in others. We were asked, if we were paying attention, to open our hearts to the needs of others. How can we hear about a man lying paralyzed for thirty-eight years, and not be moved to compassion? How can we hear about a crowd that walked by him every day, and not feel convicted of the memory of the time (or times) we walked by someone in need? I believe I know the answer.
Ever since Adam and Eve, God has known that we cannot find Him by ourselves. We cannot be healed by ourselves. When a man was lying next to the Pool at Bethesda sick for thirty-eight years, he believed he was all alone without anyone to lift him up, but he was never alone. We are not alone. We have God and His Church to lift us up and help us be healed.
When you allow the rhythm of the Church to be your guide, great things happen. Today during the reading of the Holy Gospel, a phrase is used by the paralyzed man that should have reminded us of Holy Week. When Christ approaches the man lying by the pool of Bethesda waiting to be healed, He asked the man, “Do you want to be healed?” It is the man’s reply that should remind us of Holy Week. He said to Christ, “I have no man to put me in the water.”
I think it odd that so many Christians expect a life without struggle. We are taught that God is our protector and provider. We are taught that He will defeat our enemies, yet we encounter enemies around every corner. Some teach that we struggle because we do not have enough faith. They suggest, ‘believe more, and suffer less’ but this is in direct conflict with real life evidence. It is also in conflict with the Holy Scriptures. Try to tell Job to simply believe more and the suffering will disappear. Try telling the countless martyrs of the early Church to simply believe more.
We all know that someone in our life that lives on the edge, that someone who never comes to Church but always wants to judge those who do. We all know that someone who constantly speaks out against the Church and our brother and sister Christians. We also know that God asks us to love them and forgive them, but sometimes we might think they are a “lost cause” so we write them off.
We pray every day, or at least we should, “Thy will be done on Earth as it is in Heaven.” Then we go about our day. Every now and then, normally during a crisis, we wonder if our struggle is God’s will? What is God’s will? For sure it has nothing to do with houses, and boats, and cars and material stuff that “moth and rust consume.” Take a moment and read today’s Gospel lesson below….
Nobody enjoys suffering, but we all suffer. Nobody wants to see their loved ones sick in the hospital, but at some point, we all have the experience. Nobody wakes up in the morning and asks, “How shall I suffer today?” It isn’t a normal part of our consciousness to desire suffering, but it is part of our normal experience. As a priest I am blessed to sit side-by-side many who suffer. I have learned that suffering comes in all shapes and sizes. I have also learned that it cannot be altogether avoided. It is a part of life.
“And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being.” (Genesis 2.7) From that very moment every human being has struggled to maintain a healthy balance between the needs of the body and needs of the soul. Many times, most times really, the story of human history is a story of our failing to remember this important balance. It is a story of humans placing more emphasis, sometimes the only emphasis, on the needs of the body as more important than the soul.