1 Cor. 12:12, 14, 27-31/Psalm 100/Luke 7:11-17
I had to consult the Great Google to jog my memory, but I’ve actually visited the village of Nain, where the widow’s son was raised. Today it’s a non-descript Arab village in the Galilee, not far from Nazareth. I don’t think there’s a Christian community there anymore, but there is a small chapel built by the Crusaders, probably over the ruins of a Byzantine shrine. If I remember correctly, a Muslim family are caretakers of the church and unlock the door for visitors.
Luke’s account of raising the widow’s son has similarities with the raising of Lazarus in John’s Gospel. John calls the miracles of Jesus signs, signs pointing beyond themselves to something greater. The miracles were great; but they point to something greater. These raisings from the dead point to one of the two great mysteries of our faith: Resurrection. We believe in Resurrection; that is, literally, “standing up again”. The Resurrection of Jesus and the Resurrection of human beings.
The elementary school I attended had the usual grades for the time, 1 through 8. Each grade was an academic year divided into two semesters. Most kids spent a year in each grade, but if you didn’t do very well you could be held back in order to repeat that grade. In the cruel jargon of the playground, you could flunk.
We might, for the moment, think of Christianity in elementary school terms. In the first semester we focus on Incarnation, Christmas being the culminating holiday. The second semester focus is on Cross and Resurrection, Holy Week and Easter being the culmination. But nobody gets out of the first grade. Everybody flunks. There’s no second grade in Christianity, no eighth grade, no graduate school. Only remedial first grade.
The word “flunk” sounds like an Anglo-Saxon word. Or, maybe it’s Spanish…flunk-o, flunk-as, flunk-a, flunk-amos, flunk-ais, flunk-an. I flunk, you flunk, he-she-it flunks, we all flunk, you all flunk, they flunk. We can learn all sorts of things about Christianity: the Bible, the tradition, the lore of the saints, theology, liturgy, etc., etc. Some of us can get quite a bit of stuff about Christianity into our heads. But we flunk the final exam, which has only one question: did you love your neighbor? Flunkamos. We all flunk. We’re all in remedial first grade Christianity, learning all kinds of wonderful things about God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, the Bible, the Church. But when it comes to that final exam, we’re all in the same boat. We think, doesn’t my grade point average count?
Not for much: we all fail. We’ll come back to what God has done about universal flunkage later.
I once gave myself the challenge of summarizing the message of Jesus in the fewest words possible. (I had been asked to preach on the subject of “the message of Jesus”.) I got it down to 5 words, with 5 more for clarification. The message of Jesus in as few words as possible: Join me in the Resurrection (five words)—don’t wait ‘til you’re dead (five more).
Join me in the Resurrection—don’t wait ‘til you’re dead. Resurrection is what it’s all about. It’s what the raising of Lazarus at Bethany and the raising of the widow’s son at Nain are all about. Lazarus and the widow’s son died a second time, we presume (I wonder how they felt about that…). Yet they live on in the Great Resurrection. Resurrection is what it’s all about. A lot can be said about Resurrection; a lot has been said. Resurrection is what we awaken to in the life of the world to come. Resurrection also pertains to this life—we don’t have to wait until we die. When we emerge from the dark tombs of our life into the bright light of day, that’s Resurrection. When we are unbound like Lazarus from the winding cloths of life’s sepulchres, that is Resurrection. When we fall down and stand up again, fall down and stand up again, fall down and stand up again and again, that’s Resurrection.
And Resurrection, which is the focus of the second semester, is intimately related to Incarnation—the focus of the first semester. Resurrection and Incarnation are inextricably bound together in the Christian vision. (A little refresher: incarnation means being embodied, in flesh. The Word became flesh in Jesus of Nazareth. The Divine Word was embodied in human flesh in Jesus. We are, in a sense, that Body now; we are, in a sense, the continuation of Christ’s incarnate body. “Now, you are the body of Christ, and individually members of it,” as Paul puts it in 1 Corinthians [v. 27]. You are the body of Christ now, he says. St. Teresa of Avila reminds us that Christ has no body now on earth, except for us. We are joined to the Risen Christ in our baptism.
In the Apostles’ Creed we say “we believe in the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting.” I think this means that in the Great Resurrection we will still be embodied in some way. Not disembodied ghosts floating around, but embodied—in some way. In some incarnational way. What will this be like? We simply don’t know. But in the life of the world to come, Resurrection and Incarnation, Resurrection and embodiment are inextricably linked.
As they are now. How can this be? Jesus Christ was, is, the incarnate Word of God. He was, is, and ever shall be the incarnation of life, the embodiment of light and of love. Grace and truth came into the world through him—grace upon grace, as the Gospel of John has it. As John puts it in the great Prologue of that Gospel, Jesus made the invisible God known to us by bringing grace and truth into the world.
Now, we are the Body in that world. As we embody love and light, grace and truth in our lives, we are joined more fully to the Resurrection. As we incarnate that which Christ incarnates, we are joined more perfectly, more completely to his Resurrected Body. Even now.
Join me in the Resurrection—don’t wait ‘til you’re dead. When we love our neighbor, when we act upon that love, when we speak out of that love, we are joined more fully to the incarnate love of Christ, we are joined more completely to his resurrected body. When we embody light and life in this world of darkness and death, we are joined more completely to his risen body. When we embody grace in a world of ugliness, when we speak truth and seek truth in a world of untruth, we are joined more completely to his risen body. We don’t have to wait.
When we love our neighbor…Did you love your neighbor? That’s the final exam question we all flunk. We come back to the problem of universal flunking. (Would that be flunkando in Spanish?) Lucky us! God loves flunkies. Christ came into the world to save flunkies. The Cross is God’s great sign to us that we can fail remedial first grade Christianity over and over and over again, but the way is still clear for our entrance into eternal life, the life of the world to come, the life of perfect Resurrection, the life of complete Incarnation. The cross and passion of Christ are God’s final, complete remedy for our failures. Christ’s remedial work on the Cross is a free gift of grace to us who get stuck in remedial first grade. There’s a great paradox here: even though we often fail to love, we are caught up in Christ’s Great Resurrection, even now.
Which is why we’re here celebrating. It all comes together in this celebration of the Eucharist: Incarnation, Cross, Resurrection. The Body of Christ come together again. The forgiveness of all our sins, the remedy for all our failures. The Life of the world to come. It’s all here, even now.
May we be joined to this greater life, even now. May we join him in his glorious Resurrection, even now. May we be taken up into his perfect and complete Incarnation, even now.
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