May 23, 2021
Christ is risen! Truly He is risen!
Today we encounter our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ coming to the Pool by the Sheep’s Gate. It was the tradition that at certain times and/or seasons that an angel would stir the waters and that the first person to enter them at this time would receive healing. This pool is where the lambs who were part of the Passover sacrifice were washed, and where the blood of those lambs would gather after the offering. The pool is the promise, the image of baptism, which Christ, who is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, will fulfill.
Within this backdrop John brings us to Christ who finds a man that has suffered for a great deal of time. He has been bound in this infirmity and he has been at the whim of others who sought what he sought. Seeing that the man has suffered for a long time, 38 years in fact, our Lord has compassion on him and offers that he can be healed. The man, misunderstanding what Christ says, remains fixed on the earthly healing he has yearned for. Reaching beyond this misunderstanding Jesus commands that the man should take up his bed and go home. He who commanded the waters to be stirred and who Himself received baptism at the hands of a servant, commands the man rise and go, His voice becoming the waters that soothe the man’s burden.
Later when the man is questioned by those who ‘have knowledge’ these others also focus only on what is seen and not on what is unseen. When we see the man again he is in the temple giving thanks to God for what he has been given. Our Lord comes to him and rejoices again with him that he has been made well, but Christ also gives him a warning that he not sin again, that he not become again like he was and even worse, that he not become like those who chastised him.
We as a community, as a society, and throughout the whole world have gone through much suffering recently with regard to many things, the pandemic chief among them in many ways. God has provided an earthly means of healing in the vaccinations just as He did in the stirring of the waters. Each of these is only accomplished through His providence, by His grace. We are thankful for His mercy. Just like those who gathered at the pool though, this healing does not meet everyone equally. Some have not yet been able to receive the treatments whether for health concerns, age limitations, or for other causes. Nevertheless, the healing of the soul and body through the encounter with Christ in His Church is and must always be available to all who seek Him. With this in mind we must prepare our parish family so that like the paralytic we may rise together, and so that all can come home. In order to do this we must, as a parish and as a family, continue to seek out the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.
Seeing how our Lord loved the paralytic and worked not just for his physical healing, but for his spiritual healing as well, we will take the following steps as we move forward, thanking God for the healing he has given from the pandemic, while still working together “with fear and trembling” for our spiritual healing.
Having spoken with Parish Council members, I know that there is no ‘perfect’ solution in our next steps; no path forward that will meet everyone’s needs or thoughts. Those who would like to have detailed debates on public policy may feel free to do so over coffee or even a beer at one of the many local establishments here in Upper Darby. As Pastor and Father of this community, I have considered and prayed on the thoughts of the council members, and I am, in obedience to Metropolitan JOSEPH and Bishop THOMAS, blessing the following work in the coming months:
- Those adults who are fully vaccinated, including the recommended waiting period after receiving the last dose, may choose to stop wearing masks.
- Those who are unvaccinated are asked to continue to wear masks, since social distancing will not always be possible in all areas of the Church as our numbers return to normal. Those who continue to wear masks may do so for whatever reasons they have, and will be respected in their choice.
- Space will be reserved in the Sanctuary for those who would like to mask and continue to practice social distancing for whatever reason, and again this will be respected.
- Coffee Hour will resume in a limited fashion during the summer. It will be held bi-weekly, meaning every other week, and the dates will be posted on the Parish calendar, and sent to the parishioners. Furthermore, weather permitting, space will be made available outside for people to gather. Re-starting coffee hour in this fashion serves the following realities:
- A number of our families will be away over the summer, and limiting the number of coffee hours will allow for the sharing of fellowship without placing heavier burdens on the families that are not traveling during the summer months.
- It will give the Ministry Teams, which oversees this work, time to write appropriate guidelines for donating and cleaning up coffee hour so as to, again, share the burdens among all of us rather than overworking some of us.
- During the summer months the different ministries of our parish will begin to meet in person and/or through online means in order to develop the various programs our parish needs to greet the New Ecclesiastical Year, September 1, with joy and with a eye towards the resumption of all our normal parish activities including, but not limited to: Choir, Weekly Coffee Hour/Agape meals, in person Sunday school, in person organizational meetings, the ‘greeter/usher’ ministry, liturgical readers, and so on. Caitlin Gordon, our Administrator and Pastoral Assistant will coordinate with the heads of the various groups to schedule these meetings.
- For those who are considering the vaccine and have asked what the Church’s “thoughts” are on the matter. Our beloved Patriarch John X has reaffirmed that the Church proclaims, “…the sanctity of life and the necessity of respecting it alongside her openness to scientific advancement” and that “…the Church considers that the matter of vaccination is not the specialty of the field of theological and spiritual studies, but rather specific to the field of medical sciences and its authorities. The decision regarding taking the vaccine is a personal decision. Every faithful has the right to make this decision in consultation with his or her doctor.” I and my family are vaccinated, Dn. Joseph and his family are, our Hierarchs are. Echoing our Patriarch I encourage you to speak to your doctor, or to one of the doctors we have here in our community as each of you wrestles with this personal decision.
These initial steps are to be taken beginning June 6th, 2021. This will allow for the information contained in this homily to be sent to parishioners, and for us to set aside the space in the Sanctuary to respect those who choose to use it.
Beloved brothers and sisters in Christ, these steps and the others that will likely come as we move forward must be accompanied by our sincere and continued repentance before God. We all must bear each other’s burdens, as St. Paul says to the Galatians, and in so doing fulfill the law of Christ, who Himself took on our infirmity and bore our wounds as the prophet Isaiah foretold.
As noted earlier there are and will be different sides and points of view on the matters I have addressed. Throughout all of them though we must continue to incarnate Christ in our lives. As Patriarch JOHN has noted, we as a people have practiced a spiritual “social distancing” from God and our fellow humans and this has led to estrangement from God, and conflict with each other, and a misuse of the creation. Christ healed the paralytic so that God might be glorified. He took up the Cross so that God’s love for us could be made manifest and that He might heal His brethren, and in His Death and Resurrection all creation is renewed. This is the path forward for us as a family, as a church.
Affirming this the Patriarch goes on to say, “This situation is dealt with by changing our behavior through sincere repentance, returning to God in prayer, and a life of communion and service. We must renounce whatever harms ourselves, our brother, and our environment. We are called to live the mystery of Divine Thanksgiving, being grateful for God’s gifts and mercies, and igniting our hope through reading the Holy Scriptures, the lives of the saints, and their teachings” so that “the joy springing from our belief that Christ is with us until the end of time makes us companions on the way with our Fathers who followed the path of struggle in every time and place. This joy strengthens us in the face of every evil and iniquity, and makes us like them, able to overcome, with God’s grace and through concerted efforts, the challenges that face our journey, so that God may be glorified in our words and deeds.”
Beloved in Christ, I pray that we all meet the coming challenges with this joy, love, and faith in Christ. I pray that we hear the words of St. Paul to the Galatians so that we aren’t deceived, that we avoid the temptations of the Adversary and the hardening of hearts.
The story of the paralytic ends with Christ finding the man in the temple. Our Lord commends a life of repentance “see that you sin no more”, and in response to this the man goes and proclaims Christ to those who are still in need.
May Christ heal our spiritual infirmities, speaking good and gentle things into our hearts. May He bless our labors in this vineyard. May He strengthen us to endure all tribulations. May He preserve us in humility in triumphs. And may we be granted to praise, honor, and worship the One Godhead in Three Persons: The Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit; always now and ever and unto the ages of ages. Amen.
Christ is risen! Truly He is risen!