The Raising of the Son of the Widow of Nain: Life Intersects Death

In the gospel reading for the 18th Sunday after Pentecost, we read of the raising of the only son of a widow in a town called Nain. It is interesting to note that we read of two processing groups of people. These processions contrast greatly.

The first procession is led by and centers around Jesus — he, his disciples, and a great crowd are moving to Nain. This procession is a procession of life and light. The second and contrasting procession is led by those bearing the dead body of the only son of a widow. This procession is one of death: they are bearing this young man to his grave. His mother, a widow, faces a “death of destitution” now that she has no support in life. The widow who conceived her son in the hidden, dark stillness of her womb now delivers him to the hidden, dark stillness of his tomb. (That tomb, though, will serve as a second “womb” in another day when he dies again. From this “womb” he will emerge in the new, eternal life of the resurrection.)

Our Lord perhaps perceives his own procession from Jericho to Jerusalem where he will die. Jesus, then, perhaps perceives his own death, its procession to his own tomb, and the distress of his own mother. He does not walk by in indifference. He consents to act in behalf of the widow and her son:

And upon seeing her, the Lord had compassion on her and said, “Do not weep!” And after he approached it, he touched the bier, and those carrying it stood still. Then he said, “Young man, I say to you, arise!” And the dead man sat up and began to speak, and he gave him to his mother (Luke 7: 13 — 15).

The two contrasting processions intersect. Jesus acts to touch death. Life passes through death and life triumphs!

Such processions take place this day — our day — as well. For example, we being scattered abroad in our homes, proceed to Church to assemble for the Divine Liturgy and worship of God. By this procession we once again receive the life of Christ into our being by our consumption of his life-giving Body and Blood of the Eucharist. We once again strengthen our saving union with Christ by the Eucharist, and by it we bear within us Christ’s life and light. But, such bearing is not only for ourselves and our salvation and well being.

Another procession begins with the close of the Divine Liturgy: “Let us depart in peace!” We soon process out of the church bearing Christ’s life and light within us. We depart commissioned to bear Christ to the world around us — into the varied settings and circumstances of our lives as Christians.

So commissioned, we see “processions of death” all around us. Not necessarily burial processions to a cemetery, but the “death processions” of daily living of those troubled, ill, burdened by the corrupting ways of the world system. Our fellow humans are in need of Christ’s delivering and life-giving touch. We who bear Christ within us are to have our eyes open to see such processions and “touch the bier.” When we intersect such processions we are confronted with a choice of consent or denial. If we consent to “touch the bier” we bear the life and light of Christ into the setting. We enter anew into life ourselves, and the life of Christ in us becomes ever more real and empowering. But, if we deny to “touch the bier” we only perpetuate death — the death of those we did not touch. By remainging in denial, we only cement the stench of corruption remaining in us. It remains because we have not yet yielded our will to the life and light of Christ given to us by faith and Sacrament. By denial, we do not touch our own biers.

Far too frequently we move through our days in a mindless stupor — I know I do. You, and I, do not seem at times to fully understand who we are as Christians. We too often forget that we are empowered and commissioned to serve God. We are all priests who are to bear God to all of creation, and bear all of creation to God. We are to move, act, and BE Jesus to all and all created things around us. We are to purposefully “touch the bier!”

In Christ,
Fr. Irenaeus

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