St. Mary Orthodox Church

Cambridge, MA

The Implications of Nain

 

Sermon preached by Fr. Antony Hughes on Sunday, October 6, 2019

Usually, we read the New Testament in a very small and limited way. Rarely do we examine the richness of the Gospel, the infinite depths of what they are meant to reveal to us. This is understandable. To be able to see into the depths we have to have in us the mind of Christ that alone can delve into the mysteries that speak of him. So often for us a shallow and surface level of interpretation is where we begin and end.

For example, in today’s Gospel we have a simple narrative about a widow, her dead son, and Jesus raising him from the dead. We can speak of her immense sorrow and fear over losing her son, the compassion of Christ, his empathy and power over death and all of that is true. And as always there is more.

We could delve into the cultural context, the mores and traditions of Judaism (assuming of course that the widow was a Jew), the funeral rites of first century rural Palestine, etc., etc. and all of that information would bring us a little deeper into the meaning of the event.

So far, with all this however, we will have only scratched the surface using our rational minds to concoct an interpretation that fits our ability to comprehend the literal, cultural, and historical meaning of the event with all that our presuppositions allow. All of that is good. All that the mind can bring to interpretation is helpful.

And there is still more. If indeed this Christ is God incarnate, and if he really raised a young man from the dead, then the implications of this cannot be limited to reason and the senses. No. It is as if Christ ripped through, I don’t know, the space/time continuum maybe, and performed a miracle that in some invisible way effects not on the widow, her son, the crowd of mourners, and the disciples, but the entire cosmos.

It is an even greater miracle than the tale of God making the sun to stand still for Joshua, About this I found a very interesting report written by Israeli scientists to explain the event. Allow me to quote:

Cambridge researchers announced Monday that they have pinpointed the date of the biblical account of Joshua stopping the sun — which they claim is the day of the oldest eclipse ever recorded — to October 30, 1207 BCE, exactly 3,224 years ago.

Fascinating! By this the scientists were able “to refine the dates of the reigns of two Egyptian pharaohs of that era, Ramesses the Great and his son Merneptah.” There is in scripture so much more than meets the eye. A literal interpretation is simply not enough!

I believe it is so in the story of the widow of Nain and in every account of Christ pouring himself out for the life of the world, which he did each moment of his life. His was a life of total kenosis, self-emptying, that served to reveal the truth about God and the presence of the kingdom here and now. And what is this truth? God is relational, God is present, everywhere and in everything and we are invited to enter into the Trinitarian life which is represented by the divine Cappadocians, as perichoresis, or, in other words, the intercirculation of love in the Trinity. Another way to say this is that the Trinity is a circular Divine Dance of love, like an artesian well that is an infinite source of water constantly being poured out from Divine Person to Divine Person overflowing into all of creation. And this love is what brought the young man to life, gave the widow reason to live, and allowed the mourners a glimpse into sacred reality that lay just beneath the veil of their limited understanding.

For this we must set aside our rational mind and our senses and let go of our always feeble concepts and definitions and enter into the mystery that is at the core of all things. It is not the mind that can do this, but the heart. So, we too must become empty like Christ in order to awaken the heart from its long slumber receive the fulness of his kingdom.

It has become clear to me that the scripture is an open window into what appears to the mind as an alternative reality, but which is in fact reality itself. It is not the closed and locked door of intellectual certainty; it is the entrance to eternal and divine possibility, the gateway to the heart.