1 Kings 7:8-24
In the name of Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Parents should never have to survive their children. And yet, of course, they so frequently do; it is a story tragically often told, the story of young death by disease or desperation or deprivation or destructive violence. Parents should never have to survive their children, but they do, and it’s almost enough to make a person wish the world away.
It is a story often told. Once upon a time, there was a widow in Sidon who trusted the man of God, and gave him all that she had, a meagre amount of meal and oil. And in return, or so it seemed, the man’s god let her son die, all she had left in the whole world.
Once upon a time, there was a widow in a crowd in a town called Nain; who knows why there were so many people there, perhaps she was well-loved, perhaps her son was. The widow wept for her son, whom she loved, now dead in a bier in this crowd in Nain.
It is a story often told. In our own time, 40 out of every 1,000 babies born die before they turn one; suicide is among the top three causes of death among adolescents in most Western democracies; and nobody really knows how many thousands of young men and women perish in combat every year.
It is a story too often told, if not always heard; it is almost enough to make a person wish the world away, this world we have made in the image of goodness knows what, in which our cravings for cheap food and fashion and pharmaceuticals and fancy gadgets and fake peace and false freedom come at the cost of the lives and souls of our sons and daughters. Like Elijah, we have taken from the poor and powerless, and the result is death; at least he had the courtesy to ask first, not to mention the ability to bring the boy back to his mother.
For most of us living in the real world, there will be no wandering prophet who comes by to raise our dead. Or, at least, no wandering prophet who is not ourselves, you and I, made and called, ourselves plunged into death and risen into new life, equipped in a million ways except with parlour tricks that void here and now the occasion for tears. And yet, and yet, where does that leave us, before such texts as these that seem to suggest magic or shamanism as the solution to our deepest and darkest miseries?
Once upon a time, there was a woman in Jerusalem, and her son had just been killed, a would-be messiah, a political criminal. In the days after, they said they saw him, and maybe she did too, or thought she did, but not long later, he was gone for good.
Who knows what solace she took from knowing, if she knew, that her boy was in a better place? Who knows what solace anybody takes from talk of heaven? Who knows what comfort is held by our theological acrobatics about how her son, who is gone, is yet strangely present when we gather to eat and drink in his name? But this conviction is what we have, is what we have been given. The Christian faith and gospel provide no quick solutions to grief and loss and death. Instead, our affirmation is that he who conquered death by dying himself is himself living and present in our sharing of the symbols of sustenance that are our sources of salvation. We have no conjuring tricks up our sleeves; what we do have are sacraments that call us to die to our sinful desires and to share life with others, which is the heart of defeating death.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.