The Reading from the Holy Gospel according to St. Luke. (7:11-16)
We sometimes have the feeling that the gospel texts don’t relate to us, but nothing could be further from the truth. The gospel story revolves around life and death. The gospels speak of life and death but they take life and death to a whole new level. The Lord shows us that it is not the physical death which is the most important consideration of our life. Rather, it is the spiritual death that is our chief concern. Yet, the Lord remains intimately aware of our personal individual situations and our physical needs as well. He aims to heal us spiritually but also physically and emotionally.
We hear in today’s gospel that the Lord went to a city called Nain. The hebrew dictionary tells us that this means beauty. Of course there is no way to imagine what beauty would be seen at the gate of that city on that particular day as the Lord passed through it. It happened that as the Lord was traveling with His disciples and a great crowd, they came across a funeral procession. We are told that this was a large crowd who accompanied a widow, who had lost her only son.
It is hard for us to imagine her situation or her mindset at this darkest hour of her life. She had lost her husband, the love of her life, although we are not sure exactly how long she had been a widow. But in her husbands death there was still the consolation of a grown son. Within her son she could see her husband. She was reminded of him. Even more, he took over the duties of providing for his mother. That is what a good son does for his mother. He looks after and takes care of the one who lived to look after him and raise him. Now we find this woman in the depths of despair as she has lost her beloved son. At this point we might question God in the way that modern people often do and say “why would a good and loving God allow such an awful thing to happen?” The answer is not easy to find. Death and corruption, suffering and evil are part of our world. They are part of our reality. The woman was facing these harsh realities but little did she know that she would come face to face with a new reality.
Our Lord Jesus Christ offers us a new reality. In this new reality, the old and the dying is swallowed up by newness and life. St. Luke tells us that He had great compassion on her. He knew her situation intimately. We often say “why does God allow awful things to happen in my life? Why doesn’t God care about me?” Today’s gospel reading is a reminder that the God sees everything and does care. It is also a reminder that His work happens on His time and no other. The widow was in the depth of her anguish and sadness. She had no idea what was in store for her. She had no idea who was coming towards her. She had no idea that God was already on His way to help her.
How was corruption and death swept away that day? How did darkness give way to light? How did despair become joy? The Lord used two ways; His touch and His word.
Let’s begin with His word: We are told that God created the heavens and the earth and all of creation by the power of His Word. We remember that the Lord calls forth Lazarus from the grave by His word. In His word there is tremendous power and life. My brothers and sisters, these words are also available to us. We can inhale the word of God through the study of the Bible and most importantly the study of the gospels. If a Christian does not study the scriptures, he is dying internally. If he is studying them seriously, he is being renewed in the spirit of his mind, as St. Paul says. If his mind is only filled with news and politics and trash tv and Facebook feeds, he is withering away and dying. But have faith in God and in His word. This word gave life to Lazarus and to the widow’s son. Let there be no doubt that Christ our God desires to give you this life through His word. Cling to it as you would to a life-raft in the middle of the sea.
But since the Lord desires to richly pour out His life upon us, He has done much more than give us His word. There is much more to knowing God than reading the gospels and studying the scriptures. These are often hallmarks of knowing God in according to the Protestant tradition. What is missing however is our knowing God through His touch. St. Luke tells us that the Lord touched the bier, the casket that held the widow’s son. He was not off in some distant place. He was there with the funeral procession. He was there with the grieving widow. He became a real, tangible human being. He took flesh and became man and dwelt with us.
According to our Orthodox teaching, God remains with us in a tangible manner through the sacraments of the Church. The sacraments connect us to the living power of Christ through matter which has been blessed by God. When we receive the sacraments, we receive the touch of Christ! When we offer the sacrament of Unction we are offering oil that has been touched by the Spirit of God and which is placed on the individual by the touch of the priest who represents Christ. When we come for confession we receive the hands of the priest upon our head as he touches us with the sign of the cross and asks the Lord to forgive and absolve us.
When we are baptized, we are immersed into the water that has been touched by the Holy Spirit and also by the breath and the hand of the priest. When we receive the Holy Body and Blood of Christ in the Eucharist, we touch and are touched by Christ Himself. He unites with us both physically and spiritually. He gives us life by giving us Himself.
Christ is present with us even in the midst of our sufferings and trials just as He was present for the widow. He is present because the Church is the physical presence of Christ. St. Paul calls the Church, the body of Christ. The sacraments are a sign of His life-giving activity among His people.
When we receive Christ’s touch and His word, we become full of life, full of Christ who is life. He touched the casket and the resting place of the dead man was transformed into a place of resurrection. He commanded the young man to rise and death was swept away. It became a distant memory. What happened to the widow’s son was a shadow of the new reality offered to us by Jesus. What the Lord has done for this young man, He offers to each of us; He takes our lives and our situations which often seem bleak and He transforms them just as he transformed the casket from a place of death into a place of new life. He offers us a new reality through the Church. Physical and spiritual resurrection that begins now and is fulfilled in the Kingdom which is to come.
We, the people of God are here together and together we wait for God. Have faith that God is drawing near to you even in your darkest moments. Have faith that God knows the details of your life and has compassion on you. Even if you feel dead in your faith, have faith. Have faith and draw near to God through His word and through His healing and saving touch which is found in the Church. Then we will know the Lord’s presence and have our sorrow turned to joy and proclaim with the people in the funeral procession “God has visited His people!” And Glory be to God forever AMEN.