Duck and Cover?

Passages: Isaiah 49.13-23; Galatians 6.14-18; John 3.13-21
Ընթերցուածքներ՝ Եսայ. ԽԹ 13-23; Գաղ. Զ 15 14-18; Յով. Գ 13-21

In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen!

In the early 1950s up until the late 90’s, schools across the United States and Canada trained students to dive under their desks and cover their heads any time they heard the sirens blare. The now-infamous duck-and-cover drills simulated what should be done in case of an atomic attack, which began from the days of the Cold War, as fear filled the lives of people across the world. All throughout the world up until the Iron Curtain fell, fear of a nuclear attack was imminent and very real.

Once the Soviet Union fell, fear remained as to what would happen as all these new countries declared independence and as the technology and arms war continued. Slowly fears of foreign nuclear attack dissipated, until 20 years ago on 9/1,1 2001 when a terrorist attack took the lives of thousands. No, it was not a nuclear attack, it was not a crazed gunman – but the attack was real, and devastating and there was nowhere to run or hide; there was no desk we could dive under; the siren’s blared and fear again filled our hearts.

I’m not sure where this practice was created but I’ve never understood how a desk and chair could protect against any attack especially a nuclear attack. It’s a piece of wood with some paint over it, how could this really protect me? As Christian’s, from the moment we are baptized, we are taught that true protection comes from the Holy Cross. Ye, I wonder, have we perhaps asked the same about the cross as I asked about the desk – how could this really protect me? It’s a piece of wood or maybe some sort of metal. Can the cross protect us from nuclear war? Can the cross protect us from sickness, loss of life, anxiety, depression, or other worldly pains? Can the cross protect us from a terrorist attack?

At the end of every service in the Armenian Church the priest blesses us by saying, “protector of the faithful Christ our God, protect and free your people by the sign of the Holy Cross keeping us safe from visible and invisible enemies…” Similarly, when a priest prays for healing over someone, we say “By the sign of your all powerful and conquering cross bring healing and aid to your servants…” My dears unlike our desks in school, which we falsely believed would protect us from any real danger, the power of the Holy Cross is not in the material it is made of but the symbol for which we as Christian’s, as St. Paul teaches, take glory in. For the ancient world, and even for many today, the cross is seen as a tool of death. It was used to crucify criminals and it was used to kill our Lord. However, the cross of Christ Jesus, which we glorify and look to for protection and healing is a witness to the great act of God. The wood, silver, gold or whatever material it is made of does not bring protection, rather the Holy Cross itself reveals to us that Christ Jesus is victorious over sin, the devil, demons and death.

That is why when we buy a cross or get one as a gift, we must bring it to Church to be blessed before we wear it because the material is useless rather, it is God through our prayers that makes the cross into lifegiving.

Christ Jesus through His death and resurrection made the Holy Cross a tool of faith and protection rather than fear and death. As the 8th century Church Father, St. John of Damascus teaches us, “We venerate the Cross of Christ, by which the power of the demons and the deceit of the devil were destroyed.” No, the cross is not a lucky rabbits’ foot, a 4-leaf clover or any other talisman we hang in our homes or around our necks; It is not a bullet proof vest, or a nuclear bunker, or a desk we jump under when we hear the sirens blare. The cross of Christ is the powerful symbol which reminds us that we are loved despite our flaws and sins. The Cross draws us closer to the mystery of Jesus and his power over death, for the Cross focuses our hearts and minds on Jesus Christ and His love for us. The power, protection and healing of the Cross comes not from the material but that through it we begin to know God. That is why Christ tells us to pick up and carry our cross – it means live and be a witness of God’s love and healing to the rest of the world.

Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, when in life we hear the sirens blare telling us to dive under our desks, when we face fear, depression, anxiety, sickness, hopelessness, darkness or even when we enjoy joy and good health, let us pray by crossing ourselves, looking to the Holy Cross for thanksgiving, protection and healing. For the Cross is a reminder and symbol of life after death, of freedom from sin, and of the ultimate love. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16) “Sing for joy, O heavens, and exult, O earth; break forth, O mountains, into singing! For the Lord has comforted his people, and will have compassion on his afflicted.” (Isaiah 49:13) “Peace and mercy be upon all who walk by this rule… Henceforth let no man trouble me; for I bear on my body the marks of Jesus. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit, Amen.” (Galatians 6:16-18)

Use Wit

Passages: Isaiah 13.2-11; 2 Corinthians 7.4-16; Mark 7.31-37
Ընթերցուածքներ՝ Եսայ. ԺԳ 2-11; Բ Կորնթ. Է 4-16; Մարկ. Է 31-37

In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen!

“Often held but never touched, always wet but never rusts, often bites but seldom bit, to use me well you must have wit. What am I?” This children’s riddle speaks about our tongue. And while it is only a children’s riddle, the final words hold a deep truth – “to use me well you must have wit.” Today with social media commenting, instant messaging, text messaging, etc. all of us have the boundless ability to use our physical and or digital tongues” to express opinions, thoughts, concerns, and ideas.

However, sadly, too many people today do not have or use wit, and we do not tame our tongues in how and what we say to each other or to ourselves. Just because we have a tongue, it does not mean we know how to use it.

In the Gospel today, we meet a person who had a tongue but is physically unable to speak, “And they brought to him a man who was deaf and had an impediment in his speech; and they sought him to lay his hand upon him.” (v.32) And we know that Jesus heals this man by saying Ephphatha which means be opened. However, what is opened? His tongue, his ears? Is Christ giving this man the ability to use his tongue or is it something else? In the Gospel of Mark 8 and John 9, we read of how Jesus heals blindness. In Mark 2 – Jesus heals the paralytic by forgiving his sins. In Matt. 8 – Jesus heals a leper. Etc. we all know of the multitude of stories where Jesus heals the sicknesses, ailments, the physical, spiritual, and mental brokenness of humanity – however it is only in this instance where we read of Jesus healing by saying be opened. If in the 1st century, a mute person could not express themselves easily; today, with technology they can. Does that mean we don’t need Christ? Absolutely not.

It means we need to understand what it means when Christ Jesus says, “be opened.” My dear brothers and sisters, when Christ heals us and breaks the chains of our sins it is not merely a physical healing that takes place but a much deeper and profound healing. In the letter of St. Paul to the Corinthians we read of how St. Paul is proud that our suffering, our pain and grief has led us to repentance. No, this doesn’t mean that St. Paul is a masochist, who takes pride in our pain. Rather, St. Paul sees that through grief, our eyes, ears, tongue, and senses have been opened and now we understand that only with Christ our Lord can we find true hope, healing, peace and relief of that pain.

When Christ heals with the command Ephphatha, He is not only physically healing our ailment but is opening our spiritual tongue and ears to turn us towards repentance and a deeper healing. The man in today’s story I am certain, had seen plenty of doctors and healers – none which were able to heal. If anyone of us became deaf or mute or if we had a child who had these ailments, the first thing we would do is what? Go see a doctor. And with today’s technology and medicine, or even sign language, deafness and muteness could be overcome. And yet, Christ healing the tongue and deafness of this man did much more.Healing in Christ Jesus, being opened by Christ Jesus is much deeper. Because our prayers are not incantations, and Holy Communion is not an Advil which we take to get what we want or to take the pain away in life. And we know that in this life, whether we are Christian or not, we get sick, we suffer, we are born with shortcomings. Yet, true healing takes place when we live in Christ. When we have questions and inquiry about our faith, when we come to Church and ask those questions, when we repent, pray, fast, and trust in God, then true healing will take place. A healing that will open our eyes, ears, mouth, tongue, hands, and feet to speak, act, and do that will of God.

My dear’s God has blessed us with many tools and has given us the instructions on how to use those tools to bring blessing and healing into this world. Through sin, sickness, perversion and lies have polluted and blinded us from seeing and hearing the truth. Our tongues have been bound and we have been left in pain and suffering. However, if we come with faith to Christ our Lord, when we repent, He will take hold of those chains break them and command, Ephphatha – be opened, be healed, be free. May we use that freedom, and healing to build each other up and not tear each other down. Use wit, love, and patience to tame our tongues in the words and ideas we share with each other. Let us come to Christ and ask Him to heal us, take our weakness and say Be Opened. May the life we live therefore, glorify our Heavenly Father, the Son and Holy Spirit Amen!