Saturday, March 1, 2008

4 Lent

March 2, 2008
All Saints Episcopal church
Valley City, ND

Ephesians 5.8-14; John 9.1-14

I received my first pair of glasses when I was in the Third Grade. I never remembered a time in my life without glasses. And during the 26 years I wore glasses, I became dependent upon each successful pair of glasses. In High School, I tried contacts and wore them, with much discomfort, for a few years. I broke a pair or two. I tried to go without glasses at times. I even, shortly after getting my first pair, tried to hide them.

Through it all, I learned to live with that sense of partial blindness that existed always in my life as a nearsighted person.. There was always the fear of what might happen on vacation if my glasses broke. And there was also the fear of, having misplaced them, not being able to find them back again.

I’m not alone, of course. Many of us here wear glasses and we know what life would be like without glasses. I never fully appreciated it until I had LASIK surgery four years ago. It was amazing, as I was going through the surgery, when all of a sudden, sight—clear, crisp sight—came first to one eye and then the other. It was truly a miracle in my life.

Before I heard of LASIK I never imagined there would be a time when I would be able to see without glasses. I had accepted the fact that I always be nearsighted. And now, I find myself thankful every time I come inside from a cold day and don’t have to worry about my lenses fogging, or on a hot day when the glasses seemed hot and heavy on my face. And probably the greatest pleasure I had was being able to actually walk around in the rain.

Although I was never completely blind, being nearsighted was difficult and a normal life would have been impossible without my glasses. I remember, in the days following surgery, when I could see—when I could actually go about without glasses and see—thinking to myself about our Gospel reading for this morning. It felt like a miracle. I woke up that morning before surgery, reflexively reaching for glasses on the bedside table, not being able to see anything but a blurry distance. And by that evening, it was as though I had never been nearsighted at all.

In our Gospel reading for today, we find a man born blind. The miracle Jesus performs for him is truly a large miracle. For anyone born without sight, seeing must have been quite a shock. It would, no doubt, involve a complete reeducation of one’s self. By the time he reached the age he was—he was maybe in his twenties or thirties—he no doubt had an idea in his mind of what things must’ve looked like. And, with the return of his vision, he was, I’m certain, amazed at what things actually looked like. Even things we take for granted, such as the faces of our mother and father, would have been new for this man. So, the miracle Jesus performs is truly a far-ranging miracle.

There’s also an interesting post-script to our Gospel reading. The people we have encountered in our Gospel readings this week and last are nameless people. Jesus speaks to the nameless Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well last week. This week, the blind man is never mentioned by name. Just like the Samaritan woman at the well is never mentioned again and we have no idea what happened to her after her encounter with Jesus, yet again this week we find ourselves thinking about this blind man whom we never hear about again. What happened to him after all these events? Obviously he went away a believer. But what then?

Well, in the Orthodox Church, they actually revere both the woman at the well—whom they name St. Photini—and the blind man in today’s Gospel. In the Eastern Church, the Blind Man is named St. Celidonius the Blind Man. St. Celidonius, it is believed, did in fact go on to become a loyal disciple of Jesus. Following Jesus’ death, it is believed he left in a boat with St. Lazarus—the same one whome Jesus raised from the dead—and another disciple, Maximin, went first to the island of Cyprus and, later, without Lazarus, went off to Gaul, which is now modern France.

Also in the Eastern Church, St Basil the Great and other early Church Fathers believe that Celidonius was not only born blind, he was actually born without eyes. This, they say, is why Jesus takes clay and places them upon the empty sockets. By doing so, he actually forms eyes for Celidonius. When Celidonius washes them in the waters of Siloam, the eyes of clay became real eyes with perfect sight.

It sort of reminds of us the news story that was released last week of the Irishman who lost his sight in an alumunium explosion two years. His 23 year old son donated his tooth, the root and part of his jaw. The tooth was placed in the man’s eye, a lense was added and the man was actually able to see.

The Eastern Church Fathers also believed that, with Celidonius’s new eyes, there also came great spiritual sight, which helped him to be courageous in the face of persecution and hostile questioning. The Eastern has a wonderful hymn, in which Celidonius sings to Jesus:
I come to You, O Christ,
Blind from birth in my spiritual eyes
And I call to You in repentance:
You are the most radiant light of those in darkness!

This hymn really, in a sense, is our hymn as well as we heard this Gospel reading. Because our Gospel reading speaks even to those of who have been blessed with naturally good eyesight.

The blindness spoken of in today’s Gospel is twofold. On one hand, of course, there is the actual blindness of St. Celidonius. On the other hand, there is the blindness we all suffer. There is the spiritual blindness of our lives.

For some of us, our spiritual blindness is merely a spiritual near- or far-sightedness. We can still have some vague spiritual understanding, but we just can’t quite get a focus on what it is we are longing for and searching for. Others are blind or have simply blinded themselves completely regarding their spirituality. They live in a dark, vacuous place, in which they cannot see God.

We too are living in a dark time. This season of Lent is a kind of dusk. The darkness of Good Friday is encroaching rapidly now. And there will be darkness on that day. It is the darkness that came upon the earth when Jesus died, and lasted for hours.

This darkness is very similar to the darkness any of us carries within us without Jesus. When we have nudged Christ out, or when we don’t allow Christ in, a darkness descends upon us. And it is a deep and terrible darkness. But whatever the darkness we live within, it is never a complete darkness. Whatever spiritual blindness we might have, it isn’t a complete blindness. It is actually a spiritual nearsightedness, in which we simply cannot see the clarity of God’s presence and goodness in our lives.

But with the Light that is Christ, our vision is corrected. In that Light, we see more clearly than we can ever hope to see. We are not at the midpoint of Lent. It’s easy, in this moment, to see ahead to Easter, which still seems so far away. But it is there, ahead of us.

To get there, the relative gloom of Lent will deepen into the almost blinding darkness of Good Friday and the Cross, with its torture, its humiliation, its destruction. But in that darkness, there is Light. A Light will dawn into our lives and that Light of the Resurrected Jesus will burn away the darkness and blindness of our lives. On that morning, we will be able to sing, like St. Celidonius, rejoicing in the Light that will dawn in our lives, never to go out again.

So, let us go forth toward into that Light, not letting the darkness and blindness of our lives lead us away from that goal.

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