‘And this rumour of him went forth throughout all Judaea, and throughout all the region round about.’ (Luke 7: 17)
‘…let thy continual pity cleanse and defend thy Church.’ So we pray in today’s collect. To offer this prayer is not simply an exercise in piety. It is a recognition both of the need of the Church and of the Church’s understanding of where her succour lies.
The recognition of need echoes the words of St. Peter to Jesus after some have taken offence at his teaching, ‘to whom shall we go? thou hast the words of eternal life.’ (John 6: 68) St. Peter is convinced from what he has seen and heard that there is nobody else who can offer salvation.
After all, who else would you go to? If there was a wise man in the land you might go and ask for some elucidation and guidance. If there was a prophet in the land you might decide to pay a visit and ask whether there might be a word from the Lord. Too often in times of crisis and distress the Church turns not to the wise man or to the prophet, but to the functionary. The result is not inspiration, but reorganisation – the shifting of things around – and not necessarily for any useful purpose, but for the sake of doing it. Of course things need organising, but only after the wise man and the prophet have been visited and the word of the Lord consulted.
In her distress the Church is bidden to turn once again to the Lord for his succour. The gospel reading for today is instructive because it shows Jesus in action, bringing not just solace and succour to those in a crisis, but life and joy. This is not tea and sympathy, but action to restore matters to their previous state: he who was dead is now alive and the widowed mother is relieved from her burden. This story is more than an account of a raising: it is a clear statement about who is in charge – something which comes across more strongly in St. John’s account of the raising of Lazarus. Jesus is Lord of all things earthly and heavenly and nothing is beyond his power. Given the truth of that statement – assuming she still believes it – the Church defers to Jesus in a crisis and in all things. She is, after all, his body.
Luke presents in his gospel a statement of what can be expected. We know that we do not always get the miraculous as an answer to our pleas – although direct interventions happen according to God’s will and purpose. Neither do we find the formulaic or magical offered to us as a solution to our woes, even if the naïve and sceptical think that is what the Church believes in – and some within the Church give that impression. What we actually get is a powerful, dynamic presence which challenges assumptions, changes lives and requires a direct response. When Jesus raises the widow’s son at Nain, the Lord is here – bringing life where life has been lost.
Both Lazarus and the un-named widow’s son suffer before the intervention of our Lord. Lazarus has been ill. We are not told why the young man has died whether it be illness or accident or even by the hand of man. Jesus himself is to suffer grievously before his death. His Blessed Mother will weep just as the widow in Nain has wept. We are not exempt from suffering whether it be from some natural cause or at the hands of another. Faith gives us the strength of spirit and strength of purpose to face it because we know that Jesus is Lord and that we belong to him.
St. Paul makes it perfectly clear in his writings that the continual presence of the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer is the assurance of God’s presence which the faithful need.
‘That he would grant you, according to the riches of his glory, to be strengthened with might by his Spirit in the inner man.’ (Ephesians 3: 16)
The Christian is able to face all trials and tribulations with the confidence of faith – not necessarily without the fear of suffering common to man as Jesus himself showed in Gethsemane – but in the knowledge that God is in charge, that he is present and that nothing can separate him from his people. As the Apostle writes elsewhere,
For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8: 38-39)
This assurance touched the lives of those in Nain and Bethany. Why not here…now? The truth remains the same and God is faithful to his promise. Let the rumour be spread abroad.
Father Andrew Burton SSC
27th September 2020