Within this, the Paschal Cycle, we have sung (how often?) “Christ is Risen from the dead, trampling death by death, and upon those in the tombs bestowing life.”
But how do we interpret that hymn? We most often “defer” its meaning and center Christ’s victory on death alone. And of course that victory is over death. But we defer its meaning because death, though we know it’s coming, seems so very far away.
But the Paschal hymn applies to more than those already dead. It applies to us who are living as well. The late W.M. Lewis said, “The tragedy of life is not that it ends so soon, but that we wait so long to begin it.” Christ, in conquering death, wants us to live life in a new way: boldly, generously, openly, with open hearts and minds, willing to take risks in order to live it more fully.
[In the first reading today, from the Book of Acts, we see Peter in the name of Christ healing a man bedridden for eight years. Christ banishes his paralysis through Peter, and restores the man to vitality. Imagine how fully he appreciated the ability to move, to be free of the need of others to care for him. Those who recover a strength they once lost have a new understanding of how precious that strength is.
What’s more, Peter raises Dorcas, (known among the Greeks as Tabitha), from the dead. Peter, acting in the name and through the power of Christ, can do what Christ Himself did. But the beauty of his act lies not only in Tabitha’s restoration to life, but also in her restoration to good works, to energy, to charity, and to risk.
For Tabitha’s friends, widows at Joppa, knew her through her love and ministry: weeping at her death, they show Peter all the tunics and clothes she had made for them. Tabitha was a dynamic woman, a champion pierogi pincher, the one who volunteers to visit the sick and reach even outside her close circle to be there for those in need. Christ, working through Peter, restores her to that energy and to that power. And what of risk? Tabitha has already known what it is to be struck down and silenced in death. Facing the fear of persecution before her resurrection, she has all the less to fear now, restored to the energy of a dynamic and burning love. Tabitha is a hero of the new Church, and she shows all in Joppa what it means to surge with a new life and energy in Christ.]
And Christ, in the Gospel from John 5, shows us the prototype of what we’ve seen Peter do in his name. The paralytic lies inert and only watching at the side of a pool at Bethesda that offers him the only hope of new life.
Imagine that you are at the gym or at a motel. There’s a big hot tub there. You know how that hot tub will start to churn and bubble if you pop a quarter into the meter near the side? Well imagine that nobody can jump into that hot tub until it churns and bubbles. But it churns and bubbles only intermittently, once in a while—and what’s more, the first guy in that hot tub is the only one who can be healed of his backache, his sore shoulder, his heel spurs. And what’s more, that hot water can heal even more serious diseases---kidney stones, cancer, and yes, even paralysis.
Can you imagine the crowds jostling against each other waiting for that hot tub to churn into action? Can you imagine the chaos, the shouts, the pushing and shoving that would go on when the first one shouts out “Hey! I think I see bubbles?” What chance would a paralyzed guy have to be the first into that hot tub?
That’s the dilemma this paralytic faces. He’s faced it for thirty-eight years! And what does Jesus, seeing him there and knowing his agony, his frustration, ask? He doesn’t ask, why are you here? Why do you continue to rely on this pool of Bethesda, when you know you can’t be the first to jump in? No. He asks a simple, stunning question: “Do you want to be made well?”
Think about that. Does he want to be made well? What a question! Of COURSE, we might say. Of course he wants to be made well! Surely Jesus knows that. But ask yourself, how many of us, when we face an infirmity, a paralysis of the soul or mind, really want to be made well? For there are all kinds of paralysis, all kinds of excuses for inaction: Fear. Caution. Depression. Terror that if we do something we know we should do, someone might take advantage of us. Alcohol. Drugs. Simple inertia. There are lots of reasons that we find ourselves unable to act, to do something. Do we really want to be made well? We may say so. But at the bottom of our hearts we may cling to our helplessness because we’ve become comfortable with our excuses. Jesus could ask of us, as well, “Do you really want to be made well?”
The paralytic evaded the question. He didn’t give an immediate “Yes! Please! Yo, Master, give it to me NOW.” Instead he gave his 38-year-old excuse. For 38 years no one had helped him into that water when it began to churn with the power of an angel’s healing. For 38 years somebody else had always been first.
And Jesus didn’t stop to sympathize, to mull over the excuse, to say “What a pity.” He says, in all His urgency and power and might, “Rise. Get up, pick up your bed, and WALK!” Even on the Sabbath, when by the rules with which people would limit Him Jesus shouldn’t heal at all. And on the Sabbath that guy, even if he’s released from paralysis, shouldn’t pick up ANYthing, much less his bed.
Now how long do you think that guy had lived? For 38 years? I mean, don’t you think in his own mind that man BEGAN living on the day that Jesus healed him?
We have measures for length of life, but not quality of life: is ten years of a paralyzed life worth one year of a “free” life? If we free ourselves from fear, from inhibition, if we live with generosity and openness toward other people and are able to move ON from the chains that have been holding us back, we are like that paralyzed man who finally walks again. We finally begin to live.
So the risen Christ can give us the power to Empower, as he did to Peter. He can raise US up not only from the death that kills, but also from the death that paralyzes and inhibits us. He can raise up our spirits as well as our bodies, and allow us to live a new, generous, open and dedicated life. If we believe he can raise the dead, we must believe he can raise US up too. Christ is Risen! Truly, truly He is Risen-- in US.
Fr Anthony Ugolnik, Holy Ghost Parish, Coatesville PA