Rise Up and Walk
Sermon preached on Sunday, March 12, 2023 by Andrea Popa
Part of Sermon series: “The Pilgrimage of a Christian: Our walk with Christ”
Glory to the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—one God. Amen.
During our Women’s Month sermon series this year, my fellow homilists and I will be focusing on “The Pilgrimage of a Christian: Our Walk with Christ.”
I’m going to start with some reflections on my personal pilgrimage into Orthodoxy and then take a look at the Gospel reading for today.
In January 1992, as a 19-year old college sophomore I spent a month working as a volunteer in an orphanage in rural Romania. One Sunday morning, I made my way to an Orthodox monastery in a neighboring village of Buciumeni, in Romanian Moldova. The domed church ceiling was covered in colored icons depicting the life of Christ and the saints. The air was thick with the smell of incense, waxed candles, must, and smoke.
On the monastery grounds, villagers in wool coats and rabbit-skinned hats had lined up their cars – communist era Dacias and Trabants – for a post-Epiphany blessing. After the service, the priest blessed each car, along with each person and animal in sight - using basil sprigs to douse each object with holy water as he made the sign of the cross. Parishioners were blessed for the forgiveness of sins and the healing of body and soul; Cars were blessed for their continued journey.
This Sunday morning experience, 30+ years ago, began my personal pilgrimage into the Orthodox Church. And the Feast of Epiphany — the “winter pascha” — has maintained a particular significance to me, as my entry point into the Church. As a foreigner, seeing this blessing of all living creatures and of everyday/material things, struck me as connected, as good.
Epiphany celebrates that lightbulb or “aha” moment when God is revealed to us in everyday things. In his humanity, Jesus did not become the Christ when he was baptized by John in the waters of the River Jordan – he was the Christ already – but was revealed to us in his Divine nature. Our eyes were opened to understand that he was and is the Christ who was promised.
In His baptism in human form, Jesus is shown to be the divine Son of God, one of the Holy Trinity, together with the Father and the Holy Spirit. And in his Epiphany, all flesh and all matter is sanctified and made pure in Him. Our eyes are opened to see God in all things around us as we participate in and acknowledge the sacred in the current space and the present moment.
What started as a tourist’s curiosity about the Orthodox church, grew over time. I was raised in a Christian family – my parents are both ministers, my grandparents church board members, and a century ago, my great-grandmother was a preacher in the Wesleyan holiness tradition. I’m grateful for this foundation, this navigation, and to my family for planting the seed of faith.
But although I was carried to church as a child, there came a time in my pilgrimage that I needed to rise up and walk on my own. My journey continued to bring me back to Orthodoxy over the next few years. Time and again I was drawn in by repeating themes:
- God is in all things.
- When we draw near to God he opens our eyes of faith and reveals to us his love.
- God is love and selfless love is divine.
- The world around us and in us is sacred.
- God sanctifies flesh and matter.
- Christ heals us body and soul.
I found a connectedness, a consistency, and community in Orthodoxy that continued to ground me. And so in November 2001, just five days before the birth of my first daughter, I was chrismated into Orthodoxy, establishing a spiritual home for myself and our growing family.
Let’s turn our focus next to today's Gospel reading. As we begin, I want to journey to the place and the context in which it occurs. The Gospel reading opens by telling us, “And again He entered Capernaum after some days, and it was heard that He was in the house.”
Capernaum — this fishing village on the Sea of Galilee was Jesus’ home during the early years of his ministry. While Jesus had grown up in Nazareth, he was not welcome there, because he had spoken in their synagogue about himself as the fulfillment of the prophecy of Isaiah. (Luke 4:18-19)
In the Gospel of Matthew we read: “Leaving Nazareth, he went and lived in Capernaum, which was by the lake in the area of Zebulun and Naphtali— to fulfill what was said through the prophet Isaiah: “Land of Zebulun and land of Naphtali, the Way of the Sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles.” (Matthew 4:13-15)]
Two miles from the River Jordan, Capernaum is just off the Via Maris – the Way of the Sea, a major trade route from Damascus to Egypt, where word of Jesus’ teachings would easily spread from the village to major cities far from the region. It was important enough to have a Roman garrison stationed there, and was a significant crossroad – pun intended – for pilgrims/travelers at the connection point between three continents.
Capernaum, a village of about 1,000 inhabitants, is mentioned 16 times in the New Testament.
It is near Capernaum that Jesus calls his first disciples, Peter and Andrew, as well as the fishermen James and John. It is also here that Matthew the tax collector lived.
In Capernaum, Jesus taught at the synagogue, spoke to his followers from a boat offshore, and performed many of his miracles. In Capernaum, Jesus is believed to have lived with Peter and his brother Andrew in the home of Peter’s mother-in-law.
So as we arrive at today’s Gospel, we are stepping into, not just any house, but very likely the house where Jesus lived.
We read, “... and it was heard that He was in the house. Immediately many gathered together, so that there was no longer room to receive them, not even near the door. And He preached the word to them. Then they came to Him, bringing a paralytic who was carried by four men. And when they could not come near Him because of the crowd, they uncovered the roof where He was”
Enter the paralyzed man.
He arrives in Jesus’ home with all his baggage - a physical limitation which is apparent to all, and spiritual shortcoming that Jesus sees immediately. He is carried along by the faith of others and is laid at Jesus' feet.
Jesus speaks “the word” to the crowd who has gathered in his home. Christ’s preaching is itself a form of incarnation - as divine truth is emboddied in the form of human language. And when the paralyzed man enters, he sees the man for all he is, with all he is carrying, his spiritual and physical paralysis, and addresses each need in turn.
Verse 5: “When Jesus saw their faith, He said to the paralytic, ‘Son, your sins are forgiven you.’” Jesus saw their faith. Whose faith? Was it the faith of the four who brought him? Did the paralyzed man believe as well?
Jesus perceives that the religious scribes in the crowd considered this act blasphemy because only God could forgive sins. He asks “Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven you,’ or to say, ‘Arise, take up your bed and walk’?” (Mark 2:8-9)
And so here we have another epiphany moment, of sorts. In order to reveal – both to those who believed and those in the room who questioned – that he has power on earth to forgive sins, he says to the paralyzed man, “Arise, take up your bed, and go to your house.” (v. 11) The man immediately arose, took up his bed and walked out. And the crowd was “amazed and glorified God, saying, “We never saw anything like this!” (v. 12)
Each of us today and during this season of Lent is entering this place of worship, entering Christ’s home - either through the front door or breaking through the roof to gain access.
And as we draw near, whether of our own accord or carried along by others, Christ sees us for all we are – our paralysis to act, our physical, spiritual and emotional limitations. In the humility of that “aha” interaction, he opens our eyes to know that we are already children of God.
Like the villagers and tourists who approached the monastery in Romania those years ago for an Epiphany blessing, he sanctifies the everyday and the eternal as we draw near. As we draw near, he forgives our sins. As we draw near, he heals our soul and body.
As we draw near, he enables us to walk forward in our pilgrimage. And he admonishes us to rise up and “go home” - to return to our center to live in fullness.
Let us then draw near to Christ, by any means, to enter the place where he dwells.
Let us seek his forgiveness and his healing so we can Rise Up and Walk forward, eyes open to the sacred around us and in us and standing on our own faith.