In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. Christ is risen! Truly he is risen! The Pascal Canon declares “This is the chosen and holy day, the first of Sabbaths, King and Lord of days, the Feasts of feasts, Holy Day of holy days on this day we bless Christ forever more.”
And on this Sunday of the never-ending day of the resurrection we remember a man who seemed to possess never-ending suffering. The paralytic in today’s Gospel had been by the pool of Bethesda for 38 years. Yet he does not waver in his desire and perseverance to be healed, even when as he confesses that he has no man to help him into the healing pool. The question put to him by the Lord is quite striking and may even sound offensive to some of us, “Do you want to be healed?”
Surely we can imagine a whole host of responses other than the one that the man gave: “Are you kidding me, man? What do I look like here, the pool staff? This Angel comes once a season and I have I have to, on my own, bump everyone else out of the way to get to the surface first. Do you think I like being here?”
No, instead he very meekly informs the risen Lord of his predicament placing complete trust that somehow, someway he will make him whole. Saint Cyril of Alexandria comments on the Lord’s question, “But the inquiry as to whether he would like to be relieved from his infirmity was not that of one asking out of ignorance what was obvious but one stirring up an increased desire and diligent entreaty. The question as to whether he wanted to obtain what he longed for is huge. It has the kind of force and expression that conveys that Jesus has the power to give and is ready to do so, only waiting for the request of the one who will receive this grace.” (ACCS, vol. IVa, p. 180) The man in fact receives healing, and after 38 years of lying down, he rises and walks.
And what of us on this Feast of feasts and Day of all days? What suffering has plagued us for over half our lives that we have been too timid or afraid to ask the Great Physician to cure? He asks us this morning, “Do you want to be healed? Will you receive the power of my resurrection to bring your old and tired soul back to life?” Our risen Lord wants nothing less than our whole life and he rejects everything else as an unworthy substitute.
The great old hymn writer Isaac Watts reflects thus on the Lord’s sacrifice for us:
- When I survey the wondrous cross
On which the Prince of glory died,
My richest gain I count but loss,
And pour contempt on all my pride.
- Forbid it, Lord, that I should boast,
Save in the death of Christ my God!
All the vain things that charm me most,
I sacrifice them to His blood.
- See from His head, His hands, His feet,
Sorrow and love flow mingled down!
Did e’er such love and sorrow meet,
Or thorns compose so rich a crown?
- Were the whole realm of nature mine,
That were a present far too small;
Love so amazing, so divine,
Demands my soul, my life, my all.
Brothers and sisters, the Bridegroom of the Church beckons us to His bridal chamber. He invites us but does not force us to leave the pallet of our suffering—to rise, take up our beds and walk with him into eternity. How will we respond? With what gifts shall we greet Him? I close with words of the priest poet George Herbert:
I got me flowers to strew thy way;
I got me boughs off many a tree:
But thou wast up by break of day
And brought’st thy sweets along with thee
The Sun arising in the East
Though he give light, and the East perfume;
If they should offer to contest
With thy arising, they presume
Can there be any day but this
Though many suns to shine endeavour?
We count three hundred, but we miss:
There is but one, and that one [fore]ever.
Christ is risen! Alleluia. Christ is risen!