Field of Dreams: if you build it, they will come!


June 9, 2013, 2:28 pm
Filed under: Sermons

A sermon preached at All Hallows, Easton, Sunday 9th June 2013

We have just heard two rather similar stories: the raising from the dead of a widow’s son by Elijah, and the raising from the dead of a widow’s son by our Lord. The similarity is the reason why these two readings are put together. But we can learn more from the ways the two stories are not similar.

widowelijahIn the story of Elijah, the mother is someone Elijah knows well. He has been lodging with her during a period of famine. Because of his presence in the house, the supply of flour for making bread has been miraculously maintained, keeping the whole family alive.

But then the son falls ill and dies, and the mother interprets this as a punishment for some sin of hers: “You have come to bring my sin to remembrance and to cause the death of my son.” Elijah simply takes the child, and takes him up to his own room, where in private he prays to God to restore the boy’s life. He performs various rituals, calling upon the Lord three times. At last his prayer is answered, the boy revives, and the prophet restores him to his mother. The mother responds with an act of faith: “Now I know you are a man of God!”

The story from the Gospel is different in several respects. Jesus is visiting the little town of Nain, when he meets a funeral procession, that of the only son of a widow. They are strangers to him, he has never even met them before, but his heart goes out to the poor mother. Perhaps she reminds him of his own mother. “Don’t cry,” he says. The mother does not ask him for any explanations, there is no suggestion of sin or retribution. This is just part of the human lot: a parent who loses their child.

Jesus raises the widow of Nain's son Luke 7:14-15Jesus does not go aside, he does not offer any particular prayer. He just goes and stops the procession, and says, “Young man, I tell you to get up.” And without any more ado the son sits up and talks. And Jesus restores him to his mother. All the by-standers (not just the mother) say, “A great prophet has appeared, God has visited us.”

I am sure that, in writing down this incident, St Luke had in mind the story of Elijah: but he wants to emphasise that although what Jesus does is the same sort of thing as the ancient prophet did, so that even the crowds immediately recognise him as “a great prophet”, Jesus does these things in a different way, not with great effort and struggle, not by begging a favour from God, but by a simple word of command. Elijah’s widow recognised him as “a man of God”, but when Jesus acts, people say that God himself has visited his people. They may not, then, have understood the full implication of their words, but Luke does. Jesus is not just “a man of God”, he is actually God become man. God is literally visiting his people, not just making himself known through the action of a prophet, a spokesman.

Luke is telling us not just about the power of God, although that is awesome- the people are filled with awe when they see it. Luke is also telling us about God’s compassion, about his love for human beings, especially in their sufferings and sorrows. We remembered a few days ago the mystery of the Heart of Jesus, a way of speaking about his tender love and compassion for us all, however great our sins may be. The Heart of Jesus is very evident in this story: He saw the bereaved widow, deprived now of her only support, her son, and he felt sorrow himself. There is no hesitation, no ifs or buts, no weighing up what needed to be done. His heart was moved, and he acted.

Sacred Heart IconJesus himself, at the time of this miracle, was himself a widow’s son. Implicitly, in the background of this story, stands our blessed Lady. In the widow of Nain Jesus saw his own mother, perhaps thinking of her as she would be in a few months time, standing at the foot of the cross, receiving his own body into he arms. The only cure for such sorrow is Resurrection, the restoration of the dead to life. Luke is already foreshadowing the climax of the Gospel story, the Good News that Jesus lives!

One other point, drawn from the story of Elijah. Elijah, by God’s power, had sustained both the widow and her son with miraculously provided bread. Jesus sustains his Church, all his beloved disciples who at the cross became sons and daughters of Mary, brothers and sisters of Jesus, with the Bread of Life which is his own Body and Blood. As we receive the Sacrament, in a few minutes time, remember that it is God himself who is visiting his people, God himself who is raising us (as the Prayer Book says) from the death of sin to the life of righteousness. We are all the widow’s child; we are all restored to life with and by Jesus. And note: “When the dead man sat up, he spoke.” When Jesus raises us to new life, it is so that we may speak out as witnesses to his love.

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