Sermon preached by Fr. Antony Hughes on Sunday, October 10, 2021.
It seems to me that the story of the Widow of Nain is the whole of the Gospel in one short take. I had never thought of it before, but maybe every pericope in the Gospels tells us the whole story if we look deeply enough. Like small facets in a great jewel that reflect the Lord in their own special way.
The Son of God happens upon a funeral procession coming from the town of Nain. You could say that Lord becomes incarnate at the gate of the town. He makes himself known and inserts himself into the lives of the people of Nain. It is significant that this happens at a funeral procession for what is a funeral procession but a metaphor for life?
All of life is a funeral procession. As Joni Mitchell sings, life is a slow march, “From the forceps to the stone.” But at this great and sorrowful moment Christ shows the widow, the town of Nain and us that the stone is not the end.
The Cross appears at Nain as the heart of God breaks for the widow. As we are taught by our liturgies, scriptures, and saints who were in touch with God’s heart, “He could not bear to see his creation fall into corruption.” For the widow her son’s death is a spiritual, psychological and social calamity. She is a metaphor for the fallen world. Christ steps in, breaks the cycle and changes the ending.
Metaphorically Jesus ascends the Cross at Nain, taking on himself the sorrow of the widow and the death of her son. “By his stripes we are healed.” The Compassion of Christ at Nain is a prophecy of the Crucifixion where he takes upon himself the suffering of us all.
God’s intention for the cosmos is revealed in Nain. Jesus raises the boy from the dead. Nain is a window through which we can view the entire Gospel. Death becomes life, the tomb becomes heaven, suffering is
transformed into joy. Here is a Sufi proverb for you that fits the story. "When the heart grieves over what it has lost, the spirit rejoices over what it has found.” At the sorrowful end of our earthly life, we find the love of God. Fr. Richard Rohr talks about that moment writing, “Suddenly encountering such love, our doubts and fears melt in the love that sets us free.”
From the Lord’s broken, incarnate heart pours rivers of living water. The widow, her son, the procession, the little town are flooded with Compassion. Not only that. The entire cosmos receives the blessing from Nain. What happens to one happens to all. Everything and everyone is inundated with God whenever he touches any part of his creation.
What does this reading say to us at this moment? What are we to learn from this Gospel?
One: that we are not alone in a dark, impersonal, unfeeling cosmos. Coursing through it all are the All-Powerful energies of God. The energy of Love is the life-blood of all things. The great Hymn of Creation, Psalm 103, tells us that nothing would exist without the Lord’s constant vigilance, the earth, the heavens, the seas, the creatures that inhabit them and us. “All creation rejoices in Him.”
Two: We are loved constantly. He knows our suffering; he knows our frailty. He feels our pain. The Lord incarnates himself in our lives. Look and you will see him. We have never been or will ever be separate from him. God stands vigil over us, for as the scripture says, “The God of Israel neither slumbers nor sleeps.” From before our birth to beyond our death, the Lord is our constant companion. We can reach out to him at any time, and he will reveal himself.
Three: Everyone we meet is the widow of Nain. Everyone is suffering. Everyone we meet is, as Philo says, “fighting a great battle.” Compassion is called for always. To be like Jesus is to be to all a blessing and a healing. We are not called to dominate, but to serve. We are called to love, not to discriminate, to care for the weakest among us, to give of ourselves until there is nothing left to give. To greet everyone with the grace and love of God for he has freely given us both grace and love to share. I love this quote from Albert Einstein:
"A human being is part of the whole, called by us ‘universe,’ a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings, as something separate from the rest – a kind of optical delusion of consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty."
By widening our circle of compassion, we come more and more to resemble God whose circle is unlimited and all-encompassing. Then we become glorious facets in the jewel of the Gospel, windows to heaven, icons of the Savior, lovers of all.