|06 - At the Gate of Nain, Oct 8, 2017|
For audio, click here
II Corinthians 9:6-11
In the grief of this widowed mother, I think we see an icon of that faith that justifies (cf. Hom 4, Sept 17, 2017). Justifying faith is that mourning in poverty of spirit the Savior calls blessed (Mt 5:4f.), the sorrow of a broken and contrite heart (Ps 50:17 LXX) over the loss of the LORD in one’s soul. It is a spiritual grief that penetrates to the pit of one’s gut; its tears wash away every trace of self-righteousness and spiritual pride.
It is, to be sure, a hard word to say that this is what justifying faith is, what it looks like and feels like; for, who of us feels such sorrow in the pit of our gut over our estrangement from God? Who of us mourns let alone sees the entitlement, the spiritual conceit rooted in the gut of our soul, whose spreading vines darken our mind and harden our heart?
Yet, I find this hard word wonderfully therapeutic. In revealing how shallow is my faith, it cools the fever of my spiritual pride; it eases the congestion of my swollen ego. I think I can feel my heart beginning to breathe. I want more hard sayings like this that would open the passage to my heart so that I can breathe the sweet fragrance of true faith’s utter humility.
Note how this widowed mother’s grief leads her in this morning’s Gospel outside the city. We could believe we were at Golgotha outside the city. Indeed, I see this morning’s Gospel as an icon of Golgotha, an event in the earthly life of the Savior that radiates like a ray of light the darkness cannot overcome from His life-creating Cross, filled with the LORD’s compassion that heals and raises to life.
In the spiritual essence of the icon, the sorrow of this justifying faith has led the widowed mother outside of her ego and into the presence of the Crucified God drawing near to her at the gate where she opens onto her heart.
The LORD’s holy disciples are with Him. That suggests that she has come into the mystery of the Church, the crucified and risen and glorified Body of Christ (Eph 1:21). Note, then, that she comes into the mystery of the Church outside the city; and note that she is on the path that would lead her to the tombs, where she will bury her only son perhaps alongside her husband, her life and her joy.
I.e., in the mystery of the Church, the sorrow of true faith leads us outside the city, outside our ego and toward the tomb of our heart. Here, in the mystery of the Church, in the sorrow of true faith, we come into the presence of the crucified and risen God who draws near to us in the compassion of His Holy Pascha.
It says that the LORD saw her. Do you remember, when Adam and Eve fell into the darkness of their idolatry, the LORD came looking for them, and, as though He could not see them in the darkness, He called out: “Adam, where are you?” In the spiritual essence of the icon, the LORD sees the grieving mother from the mystery of His Cross. Ascending the cross, He descended into the midst of the earth, working His salvation. He drew near the gate of the city, the gates of death. The Light of the world, He illumines the darkness and He sees the mother grieving in the darkness of her sorrow. He sees you and me.
And, it says, He felt compassion for her. The Greek word (esplagchnizsthe) refers to the bowels, the seat in the body of love and pity. It denotes a compassion felt viscerally, in the pit of one’s gut. Do you see? His compassion is as deep as her grief! Indeed, the picture drawn by this word shows Him, in His compassion, inside the tomb of her heart, becoming one with her grief!
This, in my mind, is what shows that He is God the WORD in whom all things came to be. We read, e.g., in the Psalms: “Remember Thy compassions, O LORD, and Thy mercy, for they are from everlasting” (Ps 24:6 LXX). Except, the Psalmist says oiktirmon; St Luke says esplagchnizsthe. Do you see? He is showing how the LORD remembers His compassions and His mercy that are from everlasting. He clothed Himself in our body, given Him by the Most Blessed Theotokos and His oiktirmos was incarnate as splagchna. In the wonder of Christmas and Holy Pascha, His compassion and mercy that are from everlasting touch our grief at its visceral core.
It says that He drew near and touched the funeral bier. Can you see the LORD on His Cross in the mystery of His Incarnation? By His death on the Cross He touches us at the root, in our gut, in our heart where we were dead in our sins and trespasses, and He becomes one with us (Heb 2:13-14).
It says that when He touched the bier the pall-bearers stood still. Here is an image of creation growing still under the darkened sun on Golgotha, poised in anticipation, as on Pascha Night, waiting for the LORD to act. For, the LORD nailed to the Cross is the beginning, the arche (Jn 1:1 & Gn 1:1), the foundation of the world (Rev 13:8). With His arms stretched out on the Cross, the LORD embraces all of space-time to touch the funeral bier, to touch you and me, and to draw us and all of creation back to its foundation in the mercy and compassion of God that are from everlasting.
But, my soul is so sated with the scorn of those who are at ease, the contempt of the proud, how can I find – in reality, not in the deception of sentimental imagination – this true faith of a broken and contrite heart that leads me to the compassionate God I the tomb of my heart?
It says that He gave the boy to his mother. The LORD on the Cross gives His beloved disciple, John, to His Mother (Jn 19:27). But the LORD says in another place: “Whoever does the will of My Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother” (Mt 12:50). In our baptism, we were raised to life, as was this young man in this morning’s Gospel, and we were born from above as children of God. The Theotokos became our Mother, and so we became brother and sister to the Savior. And, after He raised us from the dead at our baptism, from His Cross He gives us to our Mother, the Church.
She would teach us how to do and to live in this justifying Faith that we were given by the LORD in His Church at our Baptism. For, at our baptism, we were commanded to confess not our own beliefs (those we renounced!) but the Faith of the Church as our faith. And, we were given the Cross the LORD commands us to take up, the ascetic disciplines of the Church, according to our strength and circumstances.
There was the beginning of the faith that justifies. Even though it was small as a mustard seed, it has the power to move mountains, the mountain of our ego, the mountain of our death, for it is the power of Christ’s Cross. And, in the bodily and mental work of taking up our cross, the power active in the Cross begins already to crucify our ego and to lead us into our heart. In this justifying Faith of our baptism given us in the Church, we are illumined to see the law of sin active in our members, separating us from God, and we begin to mourn the tears of justifying Faith – the sign already, I think, that we are being raised to life, or let’s say that we are being justified. (This law of sin St Paul calls “covetousness” or idolatry. St Maximus calls it self-love; St Ephrem of Syria calls it greed. It originates from that spiritual point in the gut of our heart where we choose if we will deny God or ourselves. The LORD cannot make this choice for us, because it is the choice of love, and love is not forced.)
It is this Faith of the Church that leads us outside the city and to LORD’s Precious and Life-creating Cross. It is in this Faith of the Church that our spiritual sorrow becomes one with the LORD’s compassion which is from everlasting to everlasting. Incarnate in the wonder of Christmas and Holy Pascha as splagchna, His compassion turns our weeping into joy for by the compassion of His Cross, we are raised to life, a new creation, robed in Glory, for in His Holy Resurrection, in His Church, God is with us! Christ is in us! Amen!