Looking Death in the Face, Seeing Christ

Now it happened, the day after, that He went into a city called Nain; and many of His disciples went with Him, and a large crowd. And when He came near the gate of the city, behold, a dead man was being carried out, the only son of his mother; and she was a widow. And a large crowd from the city was with her. When the Lord saw her, He had compassion on her and said to her, “Do not weep.”

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Then He came and touched the open coffin, and those who carried him stood still. And He said, “Young man, I say to you, arise.” So he who was dead sat up and began to speak. And He presented him to his mother. Then fear came upon all, and they glorified God, saying, “A great prophet has risen up among us”; and, “God has visited His people.”    (Luke 7:11-16)

In any given week any of us might hear about a tragedy which has struck someone we know.  Someone is diagnosed with cancer, a young couple suffers a miscarriage, mental illness interrupts a family’s plans, a father loses his job, a wife is told her husband plans to divorce her.  A death occurs and we must attend a funeral.

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Many of us have experienced such news, and perhaps we felt totally sick deep inside because of what was going on.

In today’s Gospel, we see our Lord Jesus moved to compassion for a woman when he learns that she is already a widow and now her only son has died.  Jesus was deeply moved by the grief he observed in others.  Thirteen times in the New Testament we read about Jesus being moved to compassion when he encounters the suffering of others.  And we might note the word compassion is used in the New Testament only of Jesus.  No one else in the New Testament is said to be compassionate except Jesus.

When Jesus encountered this widow, the text of the Gospel says Jesus felt the loss in a gut wrenching way.  His stomach tightened.  His throat constricted and he swallowed hard.  His body was moved by the pain he saw in another.

And yet, he was not defeated by death, as Isaiah the Prophet had said of God:

He will swallow up death for ever, and the Lord GOD will wipe away tears from all faces, and the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth; for the LORD has spoken.   (Isaiah 25:8)

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And we who are united to Christ are to bring the compassion of the Savior to all of those who weep and grieve, to all of those who cause us to be moved to compassion. We can pray:

O Lord, be merciful to each person who is suffering pain or loss.  Bless those who mourn.  Comfort those who grieve.  Give us the gift of compassion so that we too might care for those who are sick or grieving or suffering.  Give us courage not to look away from them or their need, but to approach them and offer them our hand in fellowship, to help us care for them with co-suffering love, so they may know that they are not alone in their sorrow.  Grant us to be your servants, caring for your people.

Jesus  who wept at the tomb of His friend Lazarus, tells this sorrowful widow not to weep.  He knows the pain of loss and separation.  He is not telling her it is wrong to weep for He Himself wept.  He comes to take on Himself our pains and sorrows and to heal our broken hearts.  He wants her to hear His words of hope.  As Jesus proclaimed:

Truly, truly, I say to you, you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice; you will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy.  . . .   So you have sorrow now, but I will see you again and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you.  (John 16:20, 22)

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Jesus says to all His disciples including us that we will weep and lament  in life.  He says we will experience sorrow – He does not promise constant prosperity.  He does not promise that we will be spared the  trials of life or the sorrows of this world.  However, He says He has overcome the world, and Christ promises that we will have a joy which will not be taken away from us.  His promise is echoed in the words of St. John:

and I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling of God is with men. He will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain any more, for the former things have passed away.”  (Revelation 21:3-4)

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Every year at Pascha we go with the Myrrhbearing women to the tomb of Christ.  And we hear the same words that Mary Magdalene was told by Jesus:  Go tell my brothers what you’ve seen and heard.  That is our task.  To look into the face of death and see the Risen Christ, and then to find the way to share that  vision with friend and neighbor, family or enemy so that they in turn might believe that Jesus is Lord.

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We cannot lock ourselves up in the safety of our private worlds.  We cannot protect our faith by running away from life’s trials and tribulations.  For if we know Christ, we know that suffering and the trials of life are part of His existence.  We are able to stand with all those who suffer in the world if we are in Christ.  We can offer the hope of Christ to all those who suffer.  We have been with Mary at Christ’s tomb, and realize that tomb is empty because Christ is risen.  The grave is not the end of life.

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