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.
So many Christians believe that Jesus Christ was raised from the dead. In the first few days after His resurrection, so many believed that He had died, they found it impossible to believe He was alive again. After all, He died on the holiest day of the year, in the most important city of His people, in front of the largest crowds. EVERYONE saw that He was dead, and that’s just how God wanted it. Once everyone believed He was dead, then when they saw Him alive again, they would finally believe that He was God.
As we celebrated on Holy Friday, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ was hanging crucified on a cross on the holiest day of the year, in the most important city of the Jewish world, in front of the entire city. When He died, Joseph of Arimathea asked Pilate for permission to bury Jesus. Jesus had died in front of huge crowds of people, but Pilate was not convinced that He was dead, so he sent soldiers to make sure He was dead. This was an important point in history.
Economic struggle is becoming the norm for many Americans, despite what we may hear in the news. Most live paycheck to paycheck with nothing in savings for retirement, let alone a rainy day. This has left a void in the lives of many, which naturally has been filled by those prescribing a solution to economic woes, among them are those who subscribe to the Prosperity Gospel. The Prosperity Gospel suggests the more we believe, the more God will bless us with financial comfort. Prosperity Gospel preachers are famous for living in lush mansions as evidence of God’s promise for success.
As you look back to your Holy Week experience, I’m sure you recall many visitors to your Church. Some were familiar faces of those parishioners whom you hadn’t seen in a while, but there were others whom you never met. During Holy Week, naturally our Churches are filled with people who do not attend on a normal basis if at all. It offers us a great opportunity to expose others to the Orthodox Christian Faith in the Resurrected Christ. Unfortunately, many of us treat these visitors as tourists rather than pilgrims.
Much has been written about the exodus of our youth from the Church. What I have to say today is not new information, but it connects to today’s Gospel lesson, so it might hit home differently. According to studies, as many as 60-80% of youth are leaving the Church permanently, and it is our job as parents, priests, mentors, parish council members, teachers, etc. to do what we can to change this pattern. The first step is we must acknowledge that what we have been doing hasn’t worked.
In today’s Gospel reading, we hear what could be the most famous passage in the Bible, thanks to televised sporting events. There isn’t a sporting event that goes by where at least one person is not holding up a large poster for the TV cameras which reads, “John 3.16” which is a rich blessing to proclaim how much God loves us. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.” (You can read the entire passage for today below)
On the Sunday of Thomas, the eighth day of Pascha, we hear God say to His Disciples, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations.” (Matthew 28.19) We also hear God say, “Blessed are those who do not see and yet believe.” (John 20.29) Shortly before His Passion Christ also prayed for “those who will believe in Me through their word.” (John 17.20) He was speaking about us. We have heard the report of Christ’s resurrection and we have believed without seeing. Now it’s our turn to go forth and tell others what we have heard, so they can be blessed by God.
Did you fast all of Great Lent? If you did, then today your body is sending you a message. If you remember back to the first couple days of the fast, your body was cleansing itself of the many toxins in you diet. Without meat and dairy, your body cleansed itself. You probably even felt better after the first few days, with more natural energy and less weighed down throughout the day. That was because the foods we normally eat are not only heavy filled with too much fat, but also many chemical toxins.