05 - The Lord Raises the Widow's Son, October 6, 2013

2 Corinthians 4:6-15

Luke 7:11-16

Imagine the grief of this widow we read about in this morning’s Gospel who has lost her only son. She was a widow; that means she had already experienced the grief of losing her husband. Now, she had lost her only son. How lonely and hopeless she must have felt. St Luke says that when the Lord saw her, He was filled with compassion. The Greek word is very strong: He was deeply moved. He approaches and touches the bier. The pall-bearers stand still. Placing ourselves into this Gospel story, we feel that with the Lord’s approach an aura of holiness descends around the bier, compelling a deep, reverent stillness. Might the pall-bearers have felt a strange, holy anticipation, not unlike what the faithful feel in the darkness of the Church on Holy Saturday night?

The Lord speaks; or rather, He commands: “Young man, I say to you! Arise!” And the dead man sits up! He begins to speak, and the Lord gives him to his mother.

Enter into the moment. Put yourself there. Can you begin to feel, even if it is only in your imagination, the fear that St Luke says took hold of them all? What are we witnessing but the incarnation of that word of the Psalmist: “He spoke, and the world came to be; He commanded and the world stood forth”? (Ps 33:9) St Luke says that they glorified God because God had visited His people by raising up a great prophet among them. And so they thought truly, if they understood that the greatest prophet of the bible was also its first prophet: God Himself. When He said in the beginning, “Let there be light, and there was light,” we can say from the hymns of Pascha that He was, in fact, prophesying His own Resurrection from the dead and the life of the world to come, the divine life of God Himself.

Our Gospel this morning shows us what kind of Lord we give ourselves to when we receive Jesus Christ as our Lord and resolve to deny ourselves and follow Him. We are resolving to come out of ourselves, to lay aside our self-centeredness, and to follow after this Lord who is so merciful, tender and deeply compassionate. This is the one we swore to unite ourselves to at our holy baptism.

This morning’s Gospel shows us what it means to call upon Jesus as Savior. It means to call upon Him as Healer. Of course, one can’t call on Him as Savior, Healer, if one doesn’t confess that one is sick in soul and in body, and in need of a Healer, in need of a Savior. And, if we reflect more carefully on all that we witness and feel when we put ourselves into this morning’s Gospel, we see more deeply what sickness we are healed from. To be sure, we are healed from death; but, even more than that, we are healed of despair, and of the hopelessness, even the panic and dread from the terrifying aloneness we feel when we believe that we are completely separated from our loved ones. I wonder how many of our personality disorders, as they are called nowadays, are but the congealed cry of a soul frozen in inner dread from the feeling of being utterly alone in our secret heart so that we feel at the core of our being abandoned, betrayed, angry, hurt, sad, hopeless, and alone. Is this not in effect spiritual death?

“And when He saw the widow,” St Luke tells us, “the Lord felt deeply compassionate” – to the core of His being, is what the word in Greek means. “He approached the bier, and the pall-bearers stood still. And He commanded: ‘Young man, I say to you: arise!’ And, he sat up, and began to speak. And the Lord gave him to his mother.”

Can you imagine the state of the widowed mother’s soul at this moment? Do you get a sense of the deep joy she must have felt? The beginning of her healing this was.

Beloved faithful, this joy of the widowed mother over the resurrection of her son, and her restored communion with him, is the joy of the Church, the body of Christ, the body of the greatly compassionate One, the body of the Only Lover of Mankind. It is the joy of being together in the love of the deeply compassionate Savior, Our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of His Heavenly Father, the love of His All Holy Mother, and the love of all the saints and angels in heaven.

Now, perhaps, we would begin to feel the deep feeling that inspires the writing of the holy Gospels by the holy evangelists. St John, for example, writes in the deeply compassionate love of the Savior when he says in his first epistle: “We proclaim to you what we have seen with our eyes, what we have heard with our ears, what we have handled with our hands – the Word of Life Himself, who became flesh and dwelt among us! And, why do we write to you of Him? So that you may believe! And, why do we hope you would believe? So that you might enter into communion with us. We are the widowed mother. You are our children who were spiritually dead in your sins and trespasses. We pray that you would believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, that He might raise you back to life in His All Holy Spirit, and give you back to us, as He gave this young man who had died back to his mother. Then, our joy willbe made full, for our communion, dearly beloved, is with the Father, and with His Son, our most blessed and glorious Lord Jesus Christ!” (I Jn 1:1-4)

Does not the soul begin to feel already the seed of the Lord’s Holy Resurrection beginning to stir deeply in her secret heart when she enters into this Gospel story and begins to feel the beauty and tenderness of the Savior for this grieving widow? Is not the soul seized by a certain reverence and fear that conceives in her a desire to sing with the Psalmist? “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all His benefits. For, the Lord is deeply compassionate and merciful. He does not repay us according to our sins but He forgives all our iniquities. He heals all our diseases. He redeems our life from the pit of death. Indeed, He crowns us with His deeply compassionate and steadfast love and mercy!” (Ps 103:1-4)

For, the Lord whom the prophets hymn, the God whom the people in this morning’s Gospel glorify, is none other than this Jesus who felt deep compassion when He saw the grief of the widow, and raised her from death to life, and gave him back to her. This Jesus is the only-begotten Son of the Father, the eternal Word of God Himself who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” who Himself, because of His great love for us, became flesh and dwelt among us, born of the most blessed Virgin Mary, the All Holy Theotokos!

Beloved faithful, in all its beauty and tenderness, this morning’s Gospel story is an icon that bears witness to all that the Lord Jesus Christ, our God and Savior, has done for us. He raises this widow’s son from death to life as He is making His way, voluntarily, because of His deep compassion for us, to Golgotha and to the Cross, so that by His death on the Cross He might raise us from our spiritual death to spiritual life and restore us to the communion of our mother, the Church, and make to shine in our hearts the light of the knowledge of the glory of God, i.e. the Holy Spirit.

Beloved, when we deny ourselves by taking up the cross, the ascetic disciplines of the Church, we carry in our body the death of Jesus Christ. But, what is the death of Jesus Christ but the demonstration of His deep compassion He has for us? And so, what is it to take up the cross and to carry in our body the death of Jesus Christ but to take up and carry God’s love for us? To the degree that we give ourselves to the Cross, to that degree we unite ourselves to Christ, and to that degree and more, He pours out on us the love of His deep compassion for us. Like the widow’s son sitting up, restored to life, we are raised from our spiritual death and restored to the life that is deeply natural to us – Christ’s own divine life. We speak, not the inanities of worldly chatter, but the Gospel of the Savior. We speak from the joy that begins to shine in our hearts in the light of the knowledge of the glory of God, the Holy Spirit, that clothes us as we put on Christ, the deeply compassionate One, the only Lover of mankind. O Lord, glory to Thee! Most Holy Theotokos, save us! Amen.