In today’s Gospel Christ raises the son of the widow of Nain. God is love. Everything to do with God is love as we conclude at every dismissal “for He is a good God and loves us and all of mankind.” Christ in raising the widow’s son back to life shows His great love and compassion for suffering humanity, and demonstrates His power over death which He has come to destroy. This demonstration of His authority even over death – our greatest and most terror filled enemy – serves as an icon of hope and joy not just for the widow and her son and the crowd of mourners in the funeral procession, but for us and all of mankind! Everything has changed as the most important event in human history the resurrection of Christ is at the doorstep! St. Athanasios said in the early 4th century “He put on a body that He might find death and blot it out.” The scripture says of the crowd “…they glorified God, saying. ‘A great prophet has risen up among us and God has visited His people.” Christ is establishing clearly that He is the long awaited for Messiah.
In His great love and compassion, Christ meets the widow and the funeral procession as they are going out of the city gates. Christ is coming into the city gates. This is an intersection we will all cross someday as we leave the gates of this world and look to Christ for mercy and forgiveness in the hope of the resurrection of the dead. May we ever be mindful of this scheduled meeting! Christ had much to say about death and the Church teaches that He came to rescue us from the clutches of death, and restore us to life.
It is our responsibility as children of God to demonstrate through our lives that God is love, period. We ourselves choose death when we choose to live selfishly and to go our own way, to live as individuals not in communion with our ever-loving God and Creator. We cut ourselves off from He who is the only source of life and reality, as all of creation is formed and exists only through the ever-present will of God. When we cut ourselves off from His sustaining life, going our own way, we thereby enter into death through our actions. Yet, God’s love is so great so incomprehensible, that He sent His only begotten Son to us, (John 3:17) “…not to condemn the world, but that the world (the Cosmos – all that exists) through Him might be saved.” This word “Cosmos” includes all that exists everywhere. Larry Norman had a nice line in one of his song’s. “If there’s life on other planets then I’m sure that He must know, and He’s been there once already and has died to save their souls.” Can’t always quote Larry theologically, but he got it right with that line.
Christ took on our humanity fully, being clothed with flesh in the virgin Mary’s womb and becoming fully man. He came to become one of us – fully human, and to enter into death, that He might enter the realm of the dead – Hades – and free His dear friends Adam and Eve and all those held captive there, and lead them joyously into the kingdom of God. Death, our great enemy which no mortal could escape, was defeated and plundered. The devil whom reigned there was bound, and his captives set free! This was the purpose of Christ coming, to complete our salvation, and it was gloriously completed with His dying words (John 19:30) “It is finished.” God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit together and indivisible with only love – not wrath – rejoicing in the redemption of the human race!
So, we shout out with all of creation, in victory and celebration and thankfulness, “Christ is risen from the dead trampling down death by death and upon those in the tombs bestowing life!” This is the faith delivered to us from the Apostles from the beginning. Listen to the last four stanza’s (102 -105) from St. Melito of Sardis’s Pascha homily, delivered by him to his parish around 160 to 170 AD and get a sense of what the Church has always believed “everywhere, always and by all.” as St. Vincent of Lerin put it in the mid 5th century.
102) “It is I’, says the Christ, ‘I am He who destroys death, and triumphs over the enemy, and crushes Hades, and binds the strong man, and bears humility off to the heavenly heights. It is I’ says the Christ”
103) “So come all families of people, adulterated with sin, and receive forgiveness of sins. For I am your freedom. I am the Passover of salvation, I am the lamb slaughtered for you, I am your ransom, I am your life, I am your light, I am your salvation, I am your resurrection, I am your king. I shall raise you up by my right hand, I will lead you to the heights of heaven, there shall I show you the everlasting Father.”
104) “He it is Who made the heavens and earth, and formed humility in the beginning, Who was proclaimed through the law and the prophets, Who took flesh from a virgin, Who was hung upon a tree, Who was buried in earth, Who was raised from the dead,
and ascended to the heights of heaven, Who sits at the right hand of the Father, Who has power to save all things, through Whom the Father acted from the beginning and forever.”
105) “This is the Alpha and Omega, this is the Beginning and the End, the ineffable beginning and the incomprehensible end. This is Christ, this is the King, this is Jesus, this is the Commander, this is the Lord, this is He who rose from the dead, this is He who sits at the right hand of the Father, He bears the Father and is borne by Him. To Him be the glory and the might for ever. Amen”
Death is defeated, yet we still die and mourn and are separated from our dear loved ones every day. What has changed? Christ has changed everything. Before His victory, before His chronological resurrection, in today’s gospel He was demonstrating His power over death by raising up again to life the widow of Nain’s only son. Yet her son’s life here on planet earth was only extended for a short time. Christ also raised from the dead Jairus’s daughter and the 4-day dead Lazarus – who after his 4 days in the grave went on to be the first Bishop of Cyprus. But they died again a second time, but with such a difference. Their very death became their entrance into life! They left their bodies in the grave, and flew up with their souls and spirits into the blessed kingdom of God there to await the final uniting of their body’s and souls at the last judgement. Even if they lived another 80 years here on earth, this is a drop in the ocean of eternity. Our time here is very short. My dear 91-year-old mother Dorothy, who just came back into the loving embrace of the Church last year, told me that it seems that she has really not been alive for very long at all. Eternal life in the kingdom of God, this is the point of our short journey here. Everything else is just window dressing. This life here on earth is a fleeting moment when we can prepare and begin our forever future by uniting our wills to Christ. A dot on the ribbon of eternity.Then, incomprehensible joy and unending growth going from glory to glory. We step through the doorway of death in our baptism and are born again into true life in Christ and the kingdom of heaven as surely as we were born into this world through our coming forth from our mother’s womb. (John 11:25,25) “Jesus said to her, (Martha, Lazarus’s sister) “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. And whosoever lives and believes in Me, shall never die. Do you believe this?” Death has now become life to those who believe!
In death, the soul does not perish but enters into an awareness and understanding far beyond that which we now possess. St. Paul said (1 Cor.13:12) “For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I am known.” This awareness and illumination will be a great comfort and ever-increasing joy to us, if we have been cultivating the values of the kingdom of God, the teachings of the Church and turning to Christ in our life here. We will continue to grow and be confirmed and enlightened in those qualities of the soul we have developed and sought while still alive in the body. Here is a beautiful passage from the Fr. Constantine Callinicos, the Greek author of “Beyond the Grave.” “In the blessed state of the righteous, the immense mind flourishes, the heart extends its arms in innumerable embraces, the will never tires of choosing what is good, freedom no longer stands as a broken reed, but as a great oak tree. All the spiritual treasure within us, all that unimaginable world that is now sleeping in our souls will then be awakened; it will bud and blossom, and never again be barren. Knowledge will become perfect. The fog which now restricts it will disappear. Doubts and objections will be no more. Mysteries will be explained…it is as if God is embroidering a wonderful embroidery above us, and we being underneath it, see the wrong side. Hence our criticisms. But the day is coming when we will go up into the heavens and see the embroidery from the right side; and then whatever seems chaotic to us today, will appear as perfect.” This is what death holds for us!
However, this awakening will be a source of great anguish if we have been consumed with selfishness and self promotion, nurturing grudges and unforgiveness and feeding our carnal pleasures above our spiritual development. Leaving ourselves no time to connect with God. We will continue to struggle with these dark qualities once we have left the body. This is the time to deal with our soul’s condition, now while we are alive in the body and have opportunity to choose to act with love and intentionality, physically in deed and truth. If we waste this opportunity, we will be greatly dismayed and sorrowful when we are called to give an account of our lives.
We always pray for and with our dearly departed as they have need of our love and prayers and we trust that this is a comfort and help to them. We do not know nor try to determine exactly how these prayers help, but every service from the very earliest days of the Church has included these supplications for our departed, so we know they are very important. They help us to stay connected with our dear ones and we are especially united with them when we celebrate the timeless eternal Divine Liturgy. Here we are joined with all the Church, those gone before us and those all around the world joined here with us. As we pray, our love for our brothers and sisters here, and for those gone before us in the hope of eternal life grows, our hope and participation in the fountain of immortality is strengthened, our hearts are enlarged in love, and our grief is soothed in communion with Christ and His entire bride, the Church.
There are no dead in Christ. Christ says to the Sadducees, (Luke 20:38) “For He is not the God of the dead but of the living, for all live to Him.” Look around, our walls are adorned with icons of the saints. They are alive and praying with us, cheering us on. St. Paul says after listing dozens of saints from the Old Testament (Hebrews12:1) “since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us.”
So, we never worship alone. Even when just two or three are gathered, there are the saints who have gone before us worshiping with us. At the little entrance, while the choir is finishing the third antiphon, “Blessed are those…” the priest is praying the entrance prayer “O Master, Lord our God, who have appointed in heaven orders and hosts of angels and archangels for the service of Your glory. Grant that with our entrance there may be an entrance of angels serving with us and glorifying your goodness. For unto You are due all glory, honour and worship: to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit, now and ever and unto ages of ages. Amen.” The angels are here right now with us!
So today we rejoice not just that Christ raised the son of the widow of Nain back from the dead and that this sent a chill through the very heart of Hades. We celebrate that death has become life through the glorious resurrection of Christ our Lord. Orthodoxy is paradoxy and this is the greatest most glorious paradox of all. (Matt. 10:39) “He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for My names sake will find it.” We joyously join with the apostle Paul in repeating the words of the prophet Hosea 1 Cor. 15:55“O death, where is your sting? O Hades, where is your victory?”
So as we go to celebrate Thanksgiving, let us not stop at being thankful for our many perceived blessings, for our pampered life, as we live in conditions where 80% of the world would gladly switch places with us in a heartbeat. Let us not stop at being thankful for our precious families and dear friends; but let us expand our gratefulness to our God and the kingdom of heaven and the unfathomable blessings of eternal life and fellowship with all of our true family, the saints, the angels, the Mother of God and especially the love of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit and His love for us and all of mankind! Christ is Risen!