April 3, 2011
Ephesians 5.8-14; John 9.1-14
+ I received my first pair of glasses when I was in the Third Grade. I hated them! I hated wearing glasses. They were awful! And during the 26 years I wore glasses, I became dependent upon each successive pair. In High School, I tried contacts and wore them, with much discomfort, for many years. Through it all, I learned to live with that sense of pseudo-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, or I lost a contact.
I’m not alone, of course. Many of us here wear glasses or contacts and we know what life would be like without them. We realized how dependent we are upon them.
I never fully appreciated it until I had LASIK surgery. 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 or contacts. Although I was never completely blind, being nearsighted was difficult and life would have been impossible without my glasses or contacts.
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 truly felt like a miracle.
In sense today—Lataere Sunday, which if the half-way mark of Lent—is a time for us to examine this whole sense of blindness. Not just physical blindness, but spiritual blindness, as well.
My theme for Lent this year, as you have all heard me say by now, has been brokenness, or more specifically, our brokenness in relation to the broken Body of Jesus in the Eucharist. In a sense, our brokenness and our blindness are similar. In our brokenness we become like blind people—or, at least, like nearsighted people. We grope about. We find ourselves dependent upon those things that we think give us come sense of clarity. But ultimately, nothing really seems to heal our nearsightedness. In fact our sight seems to get worse and worse as we age.
In our Gospel reading for today, we find a man blind from birth. The miracle Jesus performs for him is truly a BIG miracle. Can you imagine what it must’ve been like for this man? Here he is, born without sight, suddenly seeing. It must have been quite a shock. It would, no doubt, involve a complete reeducation of one’s whole 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 may have looked like. And, with the return of his vision, he was, I’m certain, amazed at what things actually looked like. Even things we might take for granted, such as the faces of our mother and father or spouse, would have been new for this man.
So, the miracle Jesus performs is truly a far-ranging miracle. There’s also an interesting analytical post-script to our Gospel reading. The people we have encountered in our Gospel readings these past two weeks are nameless people. Last week, Jesus spoke to the nameless Samaritan woman at the well. The Eastern Orthodox Church has actually given her a name. In the Eastern Church, she commemorated as St. Photini (and no, I am not talking about a drink Episcopalians order at the country club).
This week, the blind man is also never mentioned by name. Just like St. Photini, he is never mentioned again in the Gospels and we have no idea what happened to him after his encounter with Jesus. But it is interesting to ask: What did happen to him after all these events? Obviously he went away a believer. But what then?
Well, the Orthodox Church yet again came up with an answer to that question. In the Eastern Church the Blind Man has a name and I commemorated as St. Celidonius the Blind Man. St. Celidonius, it is believed, did in fact go on to become a loyal disciple of Jesus. In fact, following Jesus’ death, it is believed he went away from Palestine with St. Lazarus—the same one whom Jesus raised from the dead—and another disciple, Maximin. The tradition states that they went first to the island of Cyprus and, later, without Lazarus, off to Gaul, which is now modern France, and there was possibly martyred for the faith.
Another interesting spin on this story also comes from the Eastern Church. St Basil the Great and other early Church Fathers believe that St. 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, essentially forming eyes for Celidonius. When Celidonius washes them in the waters of Siloam, the eyes of clay became real eyes with perfect sight. They also believe that, with these eyes, also came great spiritual sight, which helped him to be courageous in the face of persecution and hostile questioning both followign the miracvle and later before his martyrdom for Christ. The Eastern Church has a wonderful hymn, in which St. 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 hear this Gospel reading this morning We all, in our brokenness, suffer from spiritual blindness at times. We suffer from a blindness that allows us to ignore God, to ignore each other and sometimes even to ignore ourselves.
Our spiritual blindness often causes us to ignore those in need around us and this blindness causes distance and isolation in our lives, making our brokenness even deeper and more pronounced. For some of us, our spiritual blindness is merely a spiritual near- or far-sightedness.
But today, on Lataere Sunday, as we head into the latter part of Lent, we find ourselves being relieved for a bit of the heavy sense of brokenness we have been dealing with throughout Lent so far. We see a bit of clarity in our vision.
Lataere Sunday, also know as Rose Sunday or Mothering Sunday or Refreshment Sunday—is a break in our Lenten grayness. Lataere means to be joyful. Today, even in Lent, we can be joyful. It is a time for us to realize that our brokenness is not an eternal brokenness. We realize today that no matter how broken or fractured we might seem, we can be made whole once again. No matter how blind or nearsighted we might be spiritually, our spiritual sight can be returned to us once again. And in doing so, we find ourselves almost chuckling over our brokenness, over our blindness. We, in a sense, find ourselves on this Lataere Sunday—this joyful Sunday in Lent—laughing at our brokenness.
There is a wonderful tradition for this Lataere Sunday. On this Sunday in Lent, there are wonderful cakes that are traditionally made and served. These are Simnel Cakes. I actually MADE a simnel cake for us this morning. It is downstairs, waiting for us at coffee hour. And I even followed the wonderful traditions that go along with making a simnel cakes for Lataere Sunday.
One tradition is for eleven marzipan balls to be placed on the top of the cake, representing the eleven true disciples. I didn’t use marzipan balls this morning. I used robin eggs. But you get the idea.
Also, there’s a wonderful Portuguese tradition regarding simnel cakes on Lataere Sunday. The Rev'd Dr. Elizabeth Kaeton shared this tradition on a listerv this past week and it really captured my imagination. In this particular tradition, simnel cakes are called "Bolos do riso" or "Laughter Cakes". I actually used this tradition this year in making simnel cakes including the secret ingredient to bolos do riso.
Dr. Kaeton writes: “…here's the special ingredient - the secret of ‘Laughter Cakes’. After every ingredient had been added and stirred, and before [my grandmother] poured the batter into the muffin tins or cake pans, she would gather us round the Very Large Mixing Bowl. And then, she would tell us not to worry. That Lent was a very sad time, but that soon, it would be Easter. Jesus would play a wonderful trick on Satan, and death would not kill him. And, because death could no longer kill Jesus, death could no longer kill us. Because of Jesus, we would know eternal life in heaven where we would all someday be, once again. She would tell us this and then say, ‘So, laugh, children. Laugh into the bowl. Laugh into the cake. Laugh at the Devil. He can't win. He can't ever win! Only Jesus can win. Only Jesus! Laugh! Laugh! Laugh!’ And, we would. Laugh. Loud. Right into the bowl. I swear people ten blocks away could hear us laugh. It was the best part of making - and eating - that cake.”
Yes, I did use the secret ingredient this morning in making simnel cakes for us. I, like Dr. Kaeton’s grandmother, laughed as I mixed the cake. But what I love best about the story she shares is that Lent is a time for us to sit up, shrug off the seriousness of the season, and laugh. And not just laugh for the sake for laughing. But actually laugh at the devil. Laugh at all that has caused us to be the broken people we are. Laugh at the ridiculousness of our own selfish, self-centered, egotistical lives. Laugh at what has separated us from us each other, from God and from ourselves. Laugh at our nearsightedness, and laugh at our broken, fractured selves.
I really don’t thinks there’s anything during Lent than to laugh. It really does have a special sound to it—this Lenten laughter. It echoes just a bit more profoundly. And with it this Lenten laughter, we find ourselves experiencing a bit of the joy that we will all be experiencing in a few weeks at Easter arts.
Lataere Sunday is a great to remind ourselves that, even in our brokenness, we will not be broken forever. We will be made whole. ike St. Celidonius, we too will be made whole. We too will see with clarity and vision. And like him, we too will see the darkness lifted from our lives and the dazzling light of Christ breaking through.
So, today, on this Lataere Sunday—on this joyful Sunday in Lent—let’s laugh at the devil. Let’s laugh at everything that chips away at us and break us down and cases us to be spiritually blind. And let us, today, do as Dr. Kaeton’s grandmother told those grandchildren.
“Laugh at the Devil,” she is telling us. “ He can't win. He can't ever win! Only Jesus can win. Only Jesus!”