Union With God
Union with God. Communion with our Creator. Here lies the focus and center of our Christian journey. Our goal in life is nothing less than this union with God. We often highlight St. Athanasios words that “God became human so that humans could become divine.” This is what we celebrated a few days ago on the Feast of the Annunciation – God the Creator entering the world through the womb of the Virgin Mary and becoming part of His creation in order to change His creation. This event was the beginning of our salvation, the beginning of humanity’s return to paradise and the beginning of our life-long journey toward union with Jesus Christ! Saint Paul would come to say something that we all should strive to say, “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.”
Imagine this potential that God has given to each one of us; we all possess unlimited possibility to become godlike, to become more and more like God as we crucify our egos and allow Christ to dwell in us; as we turn away from our sins and reject whatever stands between us and God while opening our hearts and living in Him; as we allow Jesus Christ to live in us. If we seriously reflect upon this, can there be any greater or more exciting promise in life?!?
No matter who we are, no matter how we have failed up to this point in this life, no matter what sins we have committed, and no matter how weak we think of ourselves, God offers each one of us this unbelievable promise which allows for a new beginning and a fresh start. “Come to me all who labor and are heavy burdened and I will give you rest,” He says. You and I can actually encounter and experience God in a beautiful, life-giving manner, entering an eternal journey of change and growth and transformation that will lead us into fuller union with Him!
We actually highlight this reality today, on the second Sunday of Lent, when we commemorate Saint Gregory Palamas, the great 14th century Athonite monk, theologian and Archbishop of Thessalonika. Saint Gregory is known for defending the idea that even though God is incomprehensible and unknowable in His essence, He can be known or experienced through His energies which God pours forth upon His creation. It is through experiencing these energies of God which change and transform us.
One way of trying to understand St. Gregory’s complex theology is to think of the Sun in the sky. The Sun is a burning gas which is unreachable, yet the energies of the Sun come upon the earth in quite tangible ways through its light and warmth which sustain, nourish, and give life to the world. We cannot live without the Sun. In like manner, God’s energies give light and warmth which sustain, nourish and give life, authentic and eternal life to each one of us.
So, we return to this unbelievable promise of God – that we can experience God in a way that leads to communion and union with Him. One may ask, though, why this doesn’t happen for every person? Can everyone say that they are truly in communion and union with God? And if not, why? What hinders us from encountering God, and what must we do in order to experience Him in such a life-giving manner?
We can learn three important lessons about encountering God in a transformative manner from today’s Gospel story about the paralyzed man and his four friends. We hear about a desperate, paralytic who must have heard about the miracle-worker Jesus who gave sight to the blind, cleansed lepers, cast our demons, and even raised the dead. Filled with hope, this paralyzed man asked his four friends to carry him to the house where Jesus was. Yet, when they arrive they face an obstacle. Such a large crowd filled the house and overflowed from the doorway that no one made room for them to enter. Christ seemed unavailable to them, yet the friends are not discouraged but find a creative way to meet Jesus. They climb on top of the house, uncover the roof, and then lower their paralyzed friend at the feet of Jesus. What desire and faith they reveal in the hope of their friend meeting Jesus.
And Jesus doesn’t disappoint them, even though he does shock them. He marvels at the faith of the paralyzed man and then says, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” The man didn’t come to have his sins forgiven but to be healed of his paralysis. Yet, here we realize how Jesus perceives the real paralysis that comes from our brokenness of soul, from our sins. He first addresses the primary illness, his sinfulness, and then proceeds to his physical illness, his paralysis. Christ offers a new life, literally a new life to the man. “Your sins are forgiven. Rise, take up your bed, and go to your house.” And the man immediately arose, a new creation both physically and spiritually.
What does this story have to teach us about our own life and journey toward God?
First, to journey toward Christ we need one another, we need friends to help us and to even carry us to meet Jesus. The Christian life is not a solo journey. Only in community and friendship can we encounter God. The journey of life is full of obstacles and challenges, and no one is strong or wise enough to make this journey on their own. So, we need one another. We need a community of faith. We need the Church, a community of believers that will sometimes carry us, that will help us discover how to get past the crowd, who will lift us up onto the roof and remove the roof in order to lay us at the feet of Jesus. One Christian is no Christian. We become followers of Jesus Christ in community with one another.
Second, we may turn to Christ for what we perceive to be the paralysis in our lives, for healing from what we think is broken in our lives, yet Jesus will look into our hearts and see what is truly keeping us from Him. He knows what sinful thoughts lie in our hearts and sees the actions that keep us separated from Him, and He is ready to forgive us, to cleanse our hearts and renew our minds, filling us with His Spirit. “Son, or daughter, your sins are forgiven.”
Finally, He tells us “Arise, take up your bed and walk.” No more staying paralyzed, wallowing in the pity of our sufferings. He basically says, “I heal you. You are my new creation. You are my chosen one, my child and my heir. Get up and start living like a child of God!”
Our union and communion with God begin when we turn to Christ for healing and then with faith accept His call to “Arise and walk as a child and heir of God!”
May we never forget this sacred calling we all have. May we never ignore this divine potential that lies within each one of us. Life will never be meaningless or boring or without direction when we hear and accept these words of Christ.
Arise. Take up your bed. And walk with Me. In union and communion with Me. As my child and heir!
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