[1 Kings 17:17-24 / Ephesians 3:13-21 / Luke 7:11-17]
“What have you against me, O man of God? You have come to me to bring my sin to remembrance and to cause the death of my son!”
Holiness is death to sin; it strikes sinners down. They cannot breathe its air; they find no room to live in its presence. Holiness is terrifying, and the woman felt such holiness in the man Elijah and so she thought: “My sin has been found out and now I am being punished. That is why my son has died.”
Yes, this is the same woman we met last week. The woman to whom Elijah came and brought the gift of life. She was preparing then for her last meal, recall. She and her son. They would eat it and die. But Elijah came to her, sent from God, and life came to her house – the flour and oil on which they lived for many a day. How can she imagine, then, that the God of life would now bring her death?
You know how. You’ve thought the same. When the horrible things happen, you begin to think that God is against you, that He in His terrible holiness is out to get you and punish you for all that you’ve done. You know that He is the one before whom all hearts are open, all desires known, and from whom no secrets are hid. And when you think about that – it scares the hell into you.
Did the woman in today’s Gospel experience a similar terror? She also had lost not only her son, but her husband, and now she was all alone. Did she look in fear and terror at the God who had discovered her secrets and brought to her the judgment that she deserved? Did she say in her heart of hearts: “My sin has been found out and now I am being punished. That is why my son has died.”
If so, she found out something different about God that day, didn’t she?. “And when the Lord saw her, he had compassion on her and said to her, ‘Do not weep.’”
Compassion, not punishment, is the Eternal Word, God made flesh, our Lord Jesus. He comes to you not scare the hell into you and make you terrified for all that you’ve done and that you might justly be punished for. He comes to you to comfort you, to dry your tears, to speak to you a word of life, a word of hope.
His hand halted the funeral procession. His voice reached into death and the dead awoke. “Awake, O Sleeper, rise from death and Christ will give you life.” And life He gave indeed. As the young man sat up and breathed again and spoke, his mother was overjoyed and he handed him down to her. He hadn’t come into the flesh to judge our secrets and destroy our lives; He had come into the flesh to carry our sins and destroy our death.
There would come a time – not too far away – when another mother would be following her son to the grave, her only son, and she a widow. Her name would be Mary. But she would not be saying: “My sin has been found out and now I am being punished.” Rather, she would know that it was so that the sin of the world – all of ours – might be covered and the punishment that was our due might be borne entirely by her Son, that He chose in His freedom and love to bear the burden even into death itself. That death might be destroyed and sins might be forgiven.
The only way you get the God who pays you out for your secret sins is to turn away His cross, to reject it and say, I don’t need that. I can handle things on my own. Then the holiness is pure terror and death, because you’ve rejected the only way you can live in His presence, you’ve rejected the only means of life. God forbid you do it!
As death was not the end for the son of the widow of Nain, neither would death be the end for the Son of the widow of Nazareth. Raised on the third day, He would speak to a world in sorrow His joyous: “Do not weep! Do not weep, for sins have been forgiven and your death has been destroyed! When you go to the grave, it will be no more than a little sleep and slumber of the body until I raise you in your flesh and bring you into my Kingdom. You need not fear death, for I have destroyed it by enduring it; and you need not fear that I am out to “get you” save in this sense: I am out to get you that you might be my own, and live under me in my kingdom, and serve me in my very own everlasting righteousness, innocence and blessedness. Just as I am risen from the dead and live and reign to all eternity, so shall you, when once I have gotten you. So do not weep!”
But the God of mercy, who came into our flesh, He knows how hard it is for us in our great weakness to hold onto this. He knows how we struggle to believe it when the horrible things happen, and the old fear rises up inside us: “He’s punishing me now for all my sins – he’s paying me out for what I deserve.”
And to strengthen you in this battle “with power through His Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith – and you rooted and grounded in love, may be strengthened to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God” – that this strengthening may be yours, He gives into your mouth the gift of His body and His blood. Here is strength for your battles against all fears. Here is proof positive that your God is not out to get you nor to remember your sins against you. In the Eucharist He says to you anew: Do not be afraid; I have not come to destroy you but to forgive you, and do not weep, for You shall live in me forevermore. I am the Defeat of Death.
“Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly more than we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever!” Amen!