|06 - Raising of the Widow's Son of Nain, Oct 11, 2020|
The Recording of this Sermon can be viewed on our St Herman's YouTube Channel
2 Corinthians 9.6-11
So, I ask you: are the evangelists just story-tellers or are they theologians? Are the Gospels no more than stories of Jesus; or, do the Gospel stories of Jesus make visible the invisible mystery of salvation that is in the WORD of God becoming flesh and dwelling among us? How can the Gospels be just stories of Jesus if He is God the WORD become flesh? How can God become flesh and enter into history, which moves and evolves through space-time, and history, even space-time itself, not be transfigured, deified? Spacetime becomes the garment of God, and the Gospel stories tell the history of God so that the history of His Body, the Church, will now show the contours of His Body.
Jesus is the WORD of God. The words of man may describe Him but they cannot comprehend Him. That means, finally, that the substance of the Gospel, the meaning of the stories of Jesus that make visible and give shape to the mystery of His Incarnation, is inexpressible. For, the substance of the Gospel is deeper than words; it goes beyond all concepts and ideas; for, the substance of the Gospel is the WORD of God Himself, ‘He Who Is in the bosom of the Father,’ (Jn 1.18); and, the WORD of God, it says, in a vivid and profound and beautiful description of the mystery of His Incarnation, “is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword. It pierces to the division of soul and spirit to discern the inmost movements and thoughts of the heart.” (Heb 4.12)
So, when in spacetime, the WORD of God, in the flesh, ascends the Cross (Phil 2.5-11) and is placed as a corpse in the Tomb, He descends into the heart of man where we open beyond ourselves, beyond even the creation onto the uncreated God. And when, in the mystery of the Tomb, in His Sabbath Rest beyond spacetime, He descends even into hell, the WORD of God descends, in the flesh He receives from His Holy Mother, all the way into the ‘tomb of our heart,’ following St Macarius of Egypt (Hom 11.11), where, now following St Paul, we are dead in our sins and trespasses, (Eph 2.1); and there, following now the Psalmist, He shatters the iron bars and brass gates and releases those held prisoner there (Ps 106.8-20).
In the mystery of our heart, the masks we hide behind are far behind us. Here, we are in the realm of our ‘spirit;’ here, we come to our true self, as it says: ‘Who knows the things of the man except the spirit of the man that is in him? So also, no one knows the things of God except the Spirit of God.’ (1 Cor 2.11) Here, we are naked before God who looks on the heart (1 Sam 16.7). Before Him, no creature is hidden. All are open and laid bare before His eyes (Hb 4.13).
I believe that few if any of us live in these depths of our heart, our spirit. It is very, very hard to do, maybe even impossible to us. Our ‘hearts are hardened by the bitter love of worldly pleasures’ (Tone 8, Thurs Matins, Ode VII, p 127), by ‘the beguiling love of the flesh’ (Ode VI, p. 126), and so, we are blind and unfeeling to our spiritual depths.
Until, perhaps, our life is shattered by the loss of a loved one. Our history, in that moment, is transfigured, is it not, into a grief, a sadness, a darkness words cannot express. In that moment, the wispy filaments of the wisdom of our own opinions dissolve in the grief that suddenly opens before us; our soul feels like she is falling into depths we cannot fathom, and we feel that our heart is breaking not in a figure but in reality.
Surely, you know this experience of what I’m trying to convey, even though neither you nor I can express it in words!
Dear faithful, in the light of the Church’s Holy Gospel of the Incarnation of the Son of God, I believe in that moment we are falling into the deep of our heart, our spirit. And I believe what we are experiencing, what is suddenly becoming invisibly, immaterially real to us is how unfathomably deep we are in our inner spirit. And, the bible gives us to understand that the depth of our grief but reveals the tragic pathos of our humanity: we were not created for death but for life (Wisd 1.13-14); we were made to be immortal, we were made in the image of God’s own eternity (Wisd 2.23); and yet, we die like any prince (Ps 82.6). What is this mystery concerning us? How is it that we have been wedded unto death, we who were made in God’s own image and likeness?
I believe we feel devastated by the death of a loved one because death is not natural. Death is the cutting off of fellowship, the end of the joy of communion, which we know in our spirit is not natural. For, our ‘primary substance’ is our having been made in the image of God; we were created in communion for the purpose of becoming ‘partakers of the divine nature.’ If God is love, it means that we were made to abide forever in God and God in us (1 Jn 4.16). This means, if you will, that we were not made to know in this or that understanding of this or that; we were made to know God and our loved ones in loving communion with God and our loved ones.
With all of this, I mean to guide you beneath the story of this morning’s Gospel and into the beauty of its inexpressible pathos: a widowed mother—so, she has already lost a beloved husband—now has lost her only son. Is not this particular event that transpired in spacetime an image that expands beyond spacetime to express the universal tragedy of spacetime? Life in this world of spacetime is an island surrounded by an immaterial ocean of grief that can break over us at any moment!
But, is it not in the grief of a lost loved one that we feel the depth of our love for them? And does not our love for our loved ones in that moment feel that it is deeper than what our spirit can bear? We feel our heart breaking from the ocean of love that fills it! And, there are no words to comprehend it or even to express it, only weeping; ah, and the wordless beauty of music.
I believe our spirit knows intuitively in that moment that our life has meaning. She can feel it in her grief. But out of habit she may find herself listening not to her spirit but to her mind, her thoughts; but her mind is, well, her mind is blind as a stone. It casts about looking for the evidence of meaning here on the island of this life, and sees none because the mind reaches no further than the beach. It cannot penetrate the depths of the surrounding sea, the mystery of God hidden from the ages whence our meaning, the Logos of God, comes from in the bosom of the Father. But, in the arrogance of its blindness, the mind sees only the pale, feeble light of an earthly life empty of meaning because it is surrounded by the impenetrable darkness of death.
So, listen to the Gospel ‘story’ St Luke is telling us. It is his fishing net, and he is casting it into the depths of our spirit to draw our heart out and up into the mystery of the LORD Jesus Christ. ‘It came to pass,’ he says; perhaps an inconsequential use of a most ordinary word to introduce his ‘story;’ except that it’s the word for the creation ‘coming to be’ at the command of the WORD of God, who, it so ‘happens to be’ (same word!) is the LORD Jesus Christ who is walking into the city of Nain with His disciples and a great crowd. He is walking! Another inconsequential detail? No! It tells us that God has become flesh. The WORD of God who is living and active, in whom time comes to be, Himself has entered into time and, in the womb of the blessed Virgin, the Son of God has become the Son of man. And, as He is making His way in the flesh, in spacetime, to the city of Nain, He is making His way in the underlying realm of the Spirit to the division of our soul and spirit, into the movements and thoughts of our heart to take up His abode in the unfathomable deep of our heart.
Dear faithful, if this is so, how can our history, our own biography, not be transfigured and deified? How can our heart remain a tomb if the Creator has made our heart to be His holy Temple? How can our death not be transfigured into the beginning of a new creation, of our coming to be into the light and life of the Spirit of God, of our being born from above, born again, born of the Spirit as children of God, if God Himself has been born of a woman (Gal 4.24)?
When the LORD saw the widowed mother bearing her only-begotten son who had died, so St Luke tells us, He felt visceral compassion for her. That, too, tells us that God has become man and now dwells in us, in our own flesh and blood; for the Greek word, splangchna, meets ‘guts’! The mercy of God in the OT, oiktirmos, has become splangchna! His unfathomable divine compassion for the widowed mother who has lost her son sets His guts to trembling in loving sorrow for her; and, out of His divine compassion that is now become visceral through His becoming flesh, the only-begotten Son of His own Mother, He says to her, ‘Do not weep!’ But, as at Lazarus’ tomb, I think we can be sure that Jesus, God incarnate, was Himself weeping as He stood before her, in the visceral compassion of His flesh! Can you hear in His word to the widowed mother the word He spoke to His prophets? ‘I take no pleasure in the destruction of the living! For, I created everything for life. I created man to be immortal. I created him in the image of my own eternity!’ I created him, that is, to become a partaker of my own divine nature; I created him to become a communicant of life eternal; I created him to abide in Me and I in him. (Don’t think I’m putting words in the LORD’s mouth to fit my own agenda. Each of these words is drawn from Holy Scripture!)
Catch the sweet fragrance of divine theology touching the ‘nose’ of our heart in this Gospel story! Our life is not the product of some cold, impersonal cosmic energy. We came to be in the life-giving grace of the LORD Jesus Christ, the warm compassion of the Heavenly Father, in the joy of the loving communion of the Holy Spirit. We came to be for the purpose of becoming partakers of the divine nature. And when our God saw that we had fallen, He did not cease to do all things until He had raised us and brought us up to heaven. So, let’s not live for ourselves alone; let’s not follow the wisdom of our own opinions. Let’s live for our LORD Jesus Christ, let’s become students of His commandments and take them up as our cross that unites us to Christ. For, the commandments of the Savior carry Christ Himself. They open our hearts to receive Him so that He can heal us, raise us from death to live and restore us to the joy and fellowship of the love of God our hearts so long for. Amen!