Ars Praedicandi: Quality of Life? Or New Life in the Risen Lord?

John 5:1-15
4th Sunday of Pascha

Christ is Risen!

I recently had dinner with my brother, and he showed me his fitbit with all of its functions. I was amazed at what you can learn about yourself – the number of hours you slept, details on your nutritional intake, the calories you have burned, and how you have used your body. The fitbit is an upgrade from the old watches that counted the number of steps we took in a day – remember those? These devices are a sign of our times, digital reminders given to us so that we might enjoy quality of life.

I don’t have a fitbit – I just try to walk a lot. A lot of people I know try to walk a lot. I remember how hard it was for my grandfather, when he was blinded by macular degeneration, to walk – he complained loudly, “I would love to walk – I just need a partner!” Walking is essentially a threshold rite in life, perhaps the primary symbol of quality of life: no one wants to miss the first steps taken by their children; we celebrate the recovery of victims of brain injuries who learn how to walk again; we have made tremendous progress in devising prosthetics for injured people so they can walk. Even if you’re reasonably healthy – when you get sick and are bedridden, you know you’re better once you’re “on your feet” again.

Walking symbolizes quality of life. Walking also symbolizes new life in the risen Christ.

I can’t help myself: in the Church, we place so much emphasis on Holy Week and the services, and then people complain about how tired they are afterwards. Yet the Gospel lessons appointed to the Sundays of Pascha are so rich: they remind us of our humanity and how much we still have to grow in becoming real humans, in learning how to live this new life in the risen Christ. We hear about St. Thomas, and Christ’s invitation to him to touch him, to verify that he is truly risen from the dead. Last week, we heard the story of myrrhbearing women, so powerful especially in our time – but did you notice that St. Mark tells us that these women were frozen? They didn’t do anything right away because they were so stunned by the message that he is risen – St Mark says that they were literally in a state of ecstasy (ἔκστασις, Mk. 16:8), upon hearing the new that he is risen (ἠγέρθη, Mk. 16:6). They’re so much like us: sometimes when we hear news that stuns us, we don’t know what to say or do! Now, ultimately, St. John tells us that St. Thomas confesses Christ as God: my Lord and my God! (Jn. 20:28) And St. Matthew tells us that the women spread the news (Mt. 28:8).

In these central resurrection accounts – the apostolic preaching that gave birth to the Church – we tend to focus on Thomas’s human condition, and we even contrast the myrrhbearing women to Thomas even though they, too, are oh, so human. But let’s also pay attention to what they are commanded to do, or just do: Thomas confesses that Christ is the Lord; the women (in Matthew) announce his resurrection to his disciples (this, by the way, is apostolic preaching). Their momentary human weakness must be overcome to perform the primary act of each Christian disciple: to confess that Jesus Christ is my Lord and my God.

In today’s Gospel from St. John, we are given another look at the same issue. The man who had an infirmity for thirty-eight years can’t even get into the pool: I cannot imagine this man’s quality of life. When he meets Jesus, Jesus does NOT put him in the pool: he asks him, do you want to be made well? When the man says, “there’s no one to put me in the pool,” Jesus doesn’t recruit three guys to lift the guy up and put him in the pool  – he says, Rise! Take up your bed and walk! ( Ἔγειρε ἆρον τὸν κράβαττόν σου καὶ περιπάτει, John 5:8).

The rest of this story appointed to today tells us what it means to live new life in the risen Christ. The man gets up, and then he answers the big question, the big fundamental question that makes Christianity unique: “who is this man?” after Jesus found him in the temple, the man said that it was Jesus who had made him well.

This man testified to Jesus: he did not testify to Jesus as the one who gives us quality of life by healing our injuries; he testified to Jesus as the one who gives us new life in Christ to recognize and confess Christ as the only-begotten son of God who is risen from the dead, for us, so that we might have life. I don’t think it is an accident that the same root word in Greek, Ἔγειρε,” is used to describe raising the dead and healing the sick. This word points to God’s plan for humanity: by making us whole, the content of our new life is to be thankful and to share the good news with the world that he is risen, for us.

Brothers and sisters, we should pray that our injuries would be healed; we should rejoice in the privilege of walking; we should pursue quality of life. Today, let us hear Christ say “Arise!” to us, so that, like St. Thomas and the myrrhbearing women and the man in today’s Gospel, we might pursue the new life in the risen Christ by confessing that he is our Lord and God, with joy, to the glory of the only-begotten Son, who is worshipped and glorified with the father and the Holy Spirit, now and forever, and to the ages of ages. Amen.

Christ is Risen!

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