This period of the fifty days between Pascha and Pentecost is a particularly light and joyful time. We still have in our memory, the triumph and joy of the Resurrection, our Feast Day of the Holy Myrrhbearers, and we look forward to the awesome descent of the Holy Spirit that will come.
The first of the Gospel events, today, is the healing of the paralytic by the sheep’s pool in Jerusalem. This pool of Bethesda, in where the sheep which were brought for sacrifice, were first washed, This pool, had miraculous properties, for an angel would come at times from heaven and stir up the waters providing an opportunity for the people to receive God’s mercy and the first person to enter the pool at that time would be healed of whatever disease they might have. For this reason the porches around the pool were often crowded with those who were ill, and who were waiting for the disturbance of the water, so that they might have a chance at healing. This was an established event – one which required the sick to have faith in the power and mercy of God.
This avenue of God’s mercy and grace was in a way, a part of the law – God reached down into the world and instead of inscribing the commandments on a tablet of stone, He stirred the water in the pool. The commandments opened the way to heavenly life, by describing how one needed to live in order to find favor with God. The disturbance of the water opened the door of access to the healing grace of God, providing for the one who entered to be healed.
It is no accident that this miracle involved water, for it is a foreshadowing of the Mystery of Baptism, given to us by our Lord, Jesus. The practice of ritual washing for purification was not unusual in Jewish practice, and in fact the baptism which John practiced in the Jordan River, was an outgrowth of that ritual. The baptism of John was a call to and a symbol of, repentance – of turning ones back on the sins that had accumulated in one’s life. Washing in the pool of Bethesda had a different purpose, for it demonstrated the hidden power of a ritual washing by providing an avenue for the grace of God to heal the sick body. The Mystery of Baptism, completes and unites these various images, and opens for us an avenue of the power of God to heal us, not only of our physical illnesses, but more importantly to heal the spiritual illnesses and injuries that are the result of sin. Baptism results in our rebirth into spiritual life by immersion in the grace of God and this is accomplished through the ritual immersion in water.
This paralyzed man had been suffering for 38 years – waiting by the pool for the disturbance of the water that would give him a chance at healing. He was persistent in his faith and hope, in God’s providence, in that he never gave up hope even after 38 years of being unable to reach the water in time. Still he looked only to God to provide healing for himself. When Jesus, Who is the fulfillment of all our hopes and desires and Who, being God incarnate, is the embodiment of the power and providence of God, came to this man, He did not ask about the man’s faith, for his faith in God’s help had been evident for 38 years and each passing year of waiting by the pool only strengthened that statement of faith. Jesus simply spoke to him asking if he wished to be healed and then without further examination, told him to rise, take up his bed and walk. This man had put all his hope in God and after 38 years God came to him and fulfilled that hope. This man, hearing the word of God and acting in faith did what he had been unable to do for nearly all his life – he stood up, picked up the bed on which had lain and began to walk. What joy must have filled him at that moment – God had seen his suffering and had heard his prayers and had come and healed him. This healing did not come in the way the man expected, but when it came, he recognized that it was indeed the hand of God and so began giving God the glory. What PATIENCE he had!!
With us, my brothers and sisters, our Baptism begins to work in us the same way. We are filled with the grace of God and we are healed. God’s grace may not always work in us, in the way or time, that we expect or envision – but when God comes to us, if we follow His leading, and act on the opportunities that He gives us, we will see the power of His mercy and grace upon us. What PATIENCE do we have?
But Jesus did not just heal this man and leave him alone. Rather He instructed him to, “rise, take up your bed and walk.” – take ACTION! Immediately upon being healed by the grace of God, he was given an opportunity to put that grace into action. Jesus did not say to the man, “You are healed and I know it’s been a long time and you must be exhausted by your ordeal, so just sit back and rest for a while before you begin to walk about.” No! He did not say to the man, “rest, take it easy” but He said, “rise, take up your bed and walk.” – take ACTION! Immediately Jesus called this man to begin acting on his faith.
We too are called to act on our faith. We have just celebrated Pascha, the feast of our deliverance from sin, death and the devil. The buildup of Great Lent, the intensity of Holy Week and the explosion of joy on Pascha and throughout Bright Week have been exciting. But now our natural reaction is to “rest up” to “catch our breath” and “recover from the exertion”. However, our Lord, having bestowed His grace upon us says, “Rise, take up your bed and walk” He doesn’t send us home to rest, but expects us to immediately begin acting on the grace that has been poured out upon us during this great celebration. Now is not the time to “rest up” but it is the time to begin walking.
Take that same intensity and focus, you had during Holy Week and Pascha, and now, apply it to every aspect of your life, bringing the grace and presence of God into everything that you do and everything that you are. It is not uncommon for the world to begin to intrude on your spiritual life, and to try and push it back in to the background. Rather than allow the world to intrude upon you, now is the time to bring Christ to intrude on the world around you. Take Pascha with you in your daily life, make it part of everything that you do.
It is our natural inclination to “relax” after the intensity of Pascha, and as we relax the world will swoop in to fill the cracks in our lives. Rather than allow the world to pounce into your life, work to fill the cracks in the world around you, with the grace that you have received. Now is not the time to “rest up” but it is the time to rise and walk, ACT.
Even as the newly healed man, began to act with the grace of God, and to fulfill the instruction that he had been given, the world crashed in around him to dissuade him from his action. Those around him said, “Who told you to carry your bedding, don’t you know that it isn’t proper according to the law to do so on the Sabbath?” They did not care to share in the joy of his healing after 38 years; the miracle was of no account to them, only the letter of the law, only to make sure that he acted “normally”, acted properly within the legalistic system of their doctrine. This is the same kind of pressure that we also face. Those in the world do not care to share with us the joy of the Resurrection; “The holiday is over, let’s get on with our business”. The pressure is to go back to “business as usual” and don’t try to change your life, just get back to “normal”. This is the pressure that we receive from the world; however, it is the pressure we must resist, for we have been changed, we have been renewed, and we have been filled with the power of Christ. Everything can be, must be, seen in a new light – the Light of Christ. Let us therefore bring the renewing Light of the Resurrection with us as we “re-enter” the world.
One more thing that Jesus said to this man: “You are made whole. Go and sin no more, lest a worse thing fall upon you.” And He says this to us also. The old “normal” was the life of sin and that “old normal” corrupted and crippled us. Now is not the time to get “back to normal” but rather, it is a time to bond with the newness that Christ has given us and renew the world around us. Don’t go back to the way things were before Great Lent, before Holy Week, before Pascha. You have been changed through the Grace of the Resurrection – continue that change, maintain it, use it. You are a new creature, you have been made whole, now go and do not return to your old life, but live your new life in Christ which He has given us.
To my fellow Orthodox Christians, I say, “He is Risen!”