Spiritual Renewal and the Healing of the Blind

healing-blind-man

Sunday of the Blind Man, May 25, 2014
Rev. Fr. Andrew Stephen Damick

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, one God. Amen. Christ is risen!

On this sixth and final Sunday during the forty days we celebrate Christ’s resurrection, we begin to contemplate the completion of this celebration with the account from John’s Gospel of the healing of the man born blind.

Having fasted and prayed our way through Great Lent, perhaps with not as much success as we had hoped, we came to Holy Pascha and rejoiced, not just in our lamb and hamburgers and kielbasi and chocolate milk and cheese, but in the resurrection of our God, in the resurrection of ourselves. Even if it was only a little, we died during Lent, and we have been raised to life again with our Lord Jesus.

And soon, those who remain in Him will also experience His ascension and the great gift of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.

Our hearts therefore naturally turn to the question of what we are to do now, what we will be doing when we come to that “ordinary” time, when in a few weeks our Sundays are named by counting their distance from Pentecost. What did I retain from Lent and Pascha and the Ascension and Pentecost?

This greatest season in the Church year, which lasts for nearly three months altogether, is fundamentally about spiritual renewal. It is about taking a fresh look at myself and asking not just “What can I stop doing wrong?” or even “What can I do to try harder to do good?” but rather something much more profound and even more accessible: “What do I see?”

What I can see comes to my mind when I think about this blind man whom Jesus heals today. He is blind from birth. He had no accident that made him blind. He has always been this way. It is not his fault he is blind. It is also not his parents’ fault. He does not know any other way of living. Seeing is something he hears people talk about, but he has no experience of it. So it may seem to him like a secret that everyone around him is in on but that he just cannot understand. They talk about things like color and light and darkness, but he doesn’t know any of these things. He doesn’t even know darkness. His sight is not darkened. It’s just not there.

But of course he has always lived this way. He knows that he stumbles sometimes and that he has to beg in order to find food, but that is his life. It is normal. It is his routine. It may not even be that big of a deal. He doesn’t have the sensation of having lost anything, so he may not really feel that he lacks something except that people tell him that he does.

And that is how I sometimes come to Lent and Pascha. I do not always arrive there with the sense that I have to accomplish something, that I really need any kind of spiritual renewal. I’m plugging along in my routine, and it’s normal for me. It’s my life. Yes, people say that I could be holy, that I could have a life filled with more spiritual energy and awareness and vision, but I’ve never really needed that before. So what’s the big deal?

This question of spiritual renewal has been on my mind recently, and not only because of this holy season, but also because of the transition that our Archdiocese now finds itself in—we have lost our Father in Christ Metropolitan Philip, and we are waiting expectantly for our new Father to be revealed. God knows who he will be, and He is preparing his heart. God is at work preparing the hearts of those who will participate in our nominating convention, and He is at work preparing the hearts of the metropolitans of the Holy Synod of Antioch who will elect our metropolitan.

And there is one purpose in God’s mind for us in choosing our chief shepherd—spiritual renewal. It is not so much that we have all been spiritually dead and useless, though perhaps that may be true for some. Rather, it is that we have come so far in the routine that we have had, and it is time now for something new to be brought to us. It is time that we receive a new kind of sight, a kind of sight which God knows and is preparing but we perhaps cannot quite yet imagine. But let us try to imagine some of what spiritual renewal might mean.

For some who are in church, it is not that they have no faith or do not care or are nominal Christians. But they often relate to the Church in a primarily institutional way or surface kind of way. They may be touched or impressed by the aesthetic of what they experience in church—the sounds and the sights and smells—but not penetrate very deeply into the spiritual significance of the liturgy and other services. There may be a strong private piety even, and even an emotional engagement, yet not much in the way of a deeper sense of what the purpose of church services is beyond experiencing a quiet or inspiring place to withdraw from the world for a while.

One of the results of this approach is that the bond between the individual believer and the liturgical community as a whole is not very strong. This manifests itself not only in that some folks do not really know other parishioners who are not their family but also in that there is less draw for services other than the Sunday liturgy. It is not so much that people are shunning fellow parishioners or shunning Saturday Vespers, but that there is not that personal bond of love and spiritual connection that would draw them together as the worshiping community.

For many parishioners, this really is normal. It is the routine. It’s spiritual life, even “faithful” church life. Yet like the blind man, there is something they do not see, something that perhaps they are not aware is even available to be seen. They are not turning away from it, because they don’t even know that it’s there.

But there could be a bond, a much deeper bond between us. I know that many of us pray for one another, but are all of us doing so? Is every name in the parish directory being prayed for? Are we praying for one another at home? Do we rejoice with all in the parish who rejoice and weep with all those who weep? At coffee hour and outside of these walls, do we connect in love with more than just our accustomed family or friends?

God has brought all of us here together in this place to pray together because, as St. Ignatius of Antioch once wrote in one of his epistles, “When you frequently come together, the powers of Satan are destroyed and his destructive force is annihilated by the concord of your faith.” What we do here together has great power, especially as we do it together. Do we have a sense when we are here praying together that we are indeed praying not alone but together, that our combined prayers have a powerful effect? Do we know that we are indeed a spiritual force?

So you see that there is much room for spiritual renewal for us—for both me and you, for us together. And I hope that you will join me in seeking this renewal. We will not merely expect it from our new chief shepherd and high priest when God reveals his name to us in a few weeks, but we will expect it from ourselves. We will pray. We will call upon God to bring us that renewal.

Yes, in many ways, we have come far, and we have much to be thankful for and even to be humbly proud of. At the same time, we have come through Lent. We have celebrated Pascha. And we are now awaiting the Ascension of our Lord and His sending to us the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. When the Holy Spirit comes upon me, what will I be? Will I receive that fiery Spirit, that divine Wind and be filled with renewal, with love for you, with love for the God Who brought us together? Will I join my prayers together with yours so that we may annihilate the powers of Satan together? Will I be drawn to be with you in every way, to pour myself out for you and make this holy community not just an important part of my life, but my whole life?

Our Lord Jesus came to give sight to the blind. He came to give resurrection to all and ascension to those who would follow Him. And He returned from whence He came to give us the Holy Spirit. How will I be renewed? How will we be renewed? When our eyes are opened by the touch of Christ, what will we see?

To the Lord Jesus Christ, be all glory, honor and worship, with the Father and the Holy Spirit, now and ever, and unto ages of ages. Amen. Christ is risen!

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