Jesus did not come to explain away
suffering, or to remove it.
He came to fill it with His presence.
Trinity tide is full of examples taken from Scripture that lead the faithful pilgrim into the experience of the Real Presence of God. And I am not speaking of somehow feeling God in the way that we feel the cold or heat, feel the pressure of another body against our own, or feel anything sensibly or tangibly. I am speaking of a kind of spiritual feeling, whose power and strength assure the mind, fortify conviction, and infuse man’s being with the stable and unchanging determination of God’s power. I am talking about an inward and spiritual faith that encounters God’s presence in the uncertain and changing here and now, only to carry it progressively into the permanent realm of truth, beauty, and goodness. In layman’s terms, I am trying to describe the belief that opens itself up to the Jesus, who desires to begin the salvation process now as he leads us slowly but surely to his kingdom. And I hope to show why belief in the spiritual truth is to be preferred to despair over earthly and mundane matters.
So let us travel back in time and find ourselves with Jesus in about the year 30 A.D. We find ourselves in the city of Nain. Nain is a place barren of any civil society. Dean Stanley tells us that on a rugged and barren ridge, in an isolated place, sits the ruined village of Endor. No convent, no tradition marks the spot. (Trench: “Miracles”) The place, to this day, is lifeless, empty, and void of any future. Its external and visible characteristics show little sign of promise. It is into just this kind of place that Christ’s presence is drawn. The Lord’s presence will yield a new kind of harvest in this barren place. Now when Jesus came nigh to the gate of the city, behold, there was a dead man carried out, the only son of his mother, and she was a widow: and much people of the city was with her. (St. Luke vii. 12) As nature has been robbed of any sign of life, so too has this widow been deprived of her only pride and joy. The widow is weeping, her tears the only expression and communication of an untellable inward and spiritual pain. This pain is not historical in nature. We all know someone who has suffered the tragedy of losing a child. There is no pain like it, and many have lost their faith crying, How could a good God let this happen to me? There seems to be no consolation, no hope, and no possible joy in the future. All the sacrifice and effort that has gone into rearing a child were for nought. With the psalmist this morning she cries inwardly and spiritually: The sorrows of death compassed me, and the pains of hell gat hold upon me: I found trouble and sorrow. (Psalm cxvi. 3) Into this pain and agony of soul, Christ comes, with much people.
And when the Lord saw her, he had compassion on her, and said unto her, Weep not. And he came and touched the bier: and they that bare him stood still. And he said, Young man, I say unto thee, Arise. And he that was dead sat up, and began to speak.”(St. Luke vii. 13-15) The crowd that surrounds the woman can offer no words to console, no reason to explain what she must endure, for as yet they have no faith. She who is truly alone can only weep. And so when Jesus approaches, all are still. He as much says, with St. Paul this morning, I desire that ye faint not at my tribulations for you, which is your glory. (Galatians vi. 11) Christ comes into this situation to bear the burden. His presence will extend a compassion that neither she nor the mourners have ever experienced. His words may be few, but his power will be great. The operation of mercy has its way, and the dead man is brought back to life. The Word is spoken, and the spirit of the dead obeys. The only words that emerge out of this situation come from the resuscitated youth. His words reveal to us the compassionate effect of the Lord’s present touch. With the psalmist he sings: The Lord preserveth the simple: I was brought low, and he helped me. Return unto thy rest, O my soul; for the LORD hath dealt bountifully with thee. For thou hast delivered my soul from death, mine eyes from tears, and my feet from falling. I will walk before the Lord in the land of the living. I believed, therefore have I spoken…(Psalm cxvi 6-10) The young man speaks and mirrors the thoughts of his mother’s heart. He has new life; so too does she. The Word made Flesh has given him words - words of new life, words of resurrection, words of joy that come from the Word. And only then do the others react. And there came a fear on all: and they glorified God, saying, That a great prophet is risen up among us; and, That God hath visited his people. (St. Luke vii. 16)
The point of this morning’s Gospel runs far deeper than the surface-level specifics of an historical event. Surface level experiences and historical events must find their respective meanings elsewhere, through the Spirit that reveals their deeper significance. Think about the widow who recently lost her ambassador husband to a terrorist attack. Think about the man who is told he has three months to live because of inoperable cancer. Think about the widow of Nain. Each of these people is confronted with a spiritual problem; on the one hand they can mourn, despair, give up on life because there is no meaning now, though, clearly, there had been spiritual meaning before, or, on the other hand, they can believe that there was goodness and there was joy, and, presumably, that goodness and joy can be found again because they transcend and conquer all threats to their persistent presence. The point is this: suffering and loss on a human and earthly level always provide opportunities and occasions for deeper awareness and appreciation of God’s presence. The widow of Nain found this in the miracle of her son’s resuscitation. In all probability the majority of sufferers today will not experience an earthly miracle, but they can experience a spiritual one which is just as real and has as much impact. They may find it when they search for and seek out the spiritual gain to be gleaned from the evidence and effects of a limited and fragile, uncertain and unpredictable earthly existence. Through it all the real miracle that each of us may seek, with the widow of Nain, her son, and the much people that witnessed the event, is the birth of faith.
But, you ask, and rightly so, how do I find this faith today? Well, we might begin by identifying with the dead, only child of the mourning mother. What do I mean? The dead man is a sign and symbol of the kind of person that we are meant to become. But, you protest, I am not dead but alive. Yes, you are physically alive, and that is only too clear! You are alive to the physical happiness, creature comforts, good food, fine wine, the economy, the hustle and bustle of political madness, and otherwise superficial accoutrements of what we called last week, mammon. But are you spiritually alive? Are you conscious that you possess a soul that alone enjoys the limited forms of happiness that define your life? Are you conscious of a soul that experiences joy, happiness, and pleasure and then sadness, grief, and pain? Are you aware that your soul seems to be immersed in things and situations that are uncertain, unpredictable, unstable, impermanent, and quite frankly perishable - be they human or inanimate? And if you are conscious and aware, have you ever thought of pursuing something better, nobler, truer, and surer, whose stability will transcend this world of decay and death? And while we are at it, if you have been alert to the call of the spiritual, have you thought of how Christians believe that God is always with us and for us, enabling us to endure the experience of the earth in order to find the Divine? Paul Claudel, again, has said, Jesus did not come to explain away suffering, or to remove it. He came to fill it with His presence. For the Christian, Jesus Christ comes into a suffering and otherwise sad human condition in order to wash and cleanse, purify and fit it for its eternal destiny. The only requirement is faith. Jesus says, Be not afraid, only believe.(St. Mark v. 36) Faith is the key that unlocks the door and alone leads a man from spiritual death into new life.
Jesus says also, Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted. (St. Matthew v. 4). St. Paul says, Therefore I ask that you do not lose heart at my tribulations for you, which is your glory.”(Eph. iii. 13) Both Jesus and Paul suffer and mourn over those who are spiritually dead. But both also persist in the prayer of hope, that the same people may discover faith and pursue love. To love is to suffer, many have said. The love that suffers all manner of human weakness, rejection, cruelty, torture, and even death confronts us this morning. That love is with us and for in Jesus Christ, longing -still and ever, because it is Divine - that faith might be born in the soil of our souls. In one way, for certain, it will have touched us, if with St. Paul we embrace it and share it as we look out into the world towards our neighbors and say, For this reason I bow my knees to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, from whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named, that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with might through His Spirit in the inner man, that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the width and length and depth and height, to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge; that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. (Eph. iii. 14-19) Jesus suffers in the hearts of his saints as they long for all men’s new life, knowing this might provide us with our first step out of death. Amen.
St. Michael and All Angels Sermons