Homilies by Rev. Andrew Collis unless indicated otherwise.
There was a widow at Zarephath. Inspired to visit the woman, the prophet Elijah ministered to her and to her son in a time of drought and famine. When the child died, Elijah prayed to God and the boy was revived. There was a widow at Nain. She was grieving the death of her only son. Jesus interrupted the funeral procession and revived the boy. “A great prophet has risen among us,” the mourners cried. Recalling the song of Zechariah, the priest whose lost voice was restored for praise, the mourners cried: “God has truly visited us.” God be with you …
There are a number of ways we might approach these texts, none better than by way of the Psalm set for today. These are stories describing the nature and activity of God whose “covenant love is visible”. The psalmist sings: “The hungry are fed. / The poor receive justice. / The captives are set free. / The blind receive new sight. / The disabled experience strength. The bereaved are comforted. The stranger finds a protector. / The kingdom of God endures forever. / It takes root in every generation.”
These are astounding stories of life in the midst of death. Their point is not to elicit mere amazement but to inspire appropriation/imitation. A crass historicism can only affirm or deny arbitrary healings/miracles (at the hands of Elijah or Elisha, Jesus, Paul or Peter). A sacramental reading will ask as to real and present possibilities. How might this become true in our generation? How might this life-
In both stories, death, most keenly, is separation from loved ones. This may seem obvious, but there’s something here worth attending to. Death is experienced by mourners. I won’t experience my own death, though I may be afraid to face it. I may also be so afraid of death that I neglect to care for those who love me. This is true at all times – Ordinary Time, the Time Being, says the poet W.H. Auden, is the most trying time of all – and in all manner of deathly contexts, all kinds of separation: familial, social, political, ecological.
It is for the widow that Jesus feels pity/compassion. The Greek word is esplagchnisthe – the meaning has to do with the most visceral of emotions. Jesus is in touch with pain, grief, vulnerability. Widows, prophetically/biblically, are the doubly/trebly/extremely vulnerable ones – without security, without power and influence, without a voice.
In both stories, life is reunion with loved ones. Life is the gift of new possibilities in relationship with others. Life is a present – conventional wisdom interrupted (offensive in both accounts) – open to a future. It might be better to say that life is an offensive presence – if by offensive we mean a radical claim to love, and a refusal of deathly silence. Life means giving voice to love (further reason to cherish the psalms). Jesus says: “Don’t cry.” Jesus says: “Young man, get up.”
These stories are not the Word of God for us in terms of our extraction or acceptance of some past truth. Such readings tend to exacerbate anxieties about death and dying. (Who died and was raised? Who died and was not raised?) The Word of God is not an abstract communication but makes a visceral connection. The Word of God, the Word of Life is happening within and among us. “The connection in which death has been reversed is the connection of hearts,” writes one commentator. “Love makes it possible for ordinary good to become radical and extraordinary.”
She goes on: “If we are to know the wonder of life in the midst of death, then we must be aware of this wonder in our transactions and our decisions. Our hearts must move us to become more than spectators watching death and life, processing to the graveyards ritualistically or gathering at the doorway to wail for what we have already accepted, seeing the dead as Not Us.
“If we are moved to becoming people who are diminished by the suffering of others, we may begin to understand what it means to be human ... and we may also learn what it means to do good” (Nancy Rockwell).
Let’s complete the homily together. Here are some questions to which we might make our responses today.
Jesus sees the widow in her vulnerability. When were you last seen, truly seen, by another?
Silence can be deathly. Jesus brings the widow into a new “Christ-
David Buttrick of Vanderbilt University in Nashville writes that “language [constitutes] the world-