3 Pentecost, June 9
First reading and psalm: 1 Kings 17:8-16 (17-24) • Ps. 146
Alternate: 1 Kings 17:17-24 • Ps. 30 • Gal. 1:11-24 • Luke 7:11-17
Death is sometimes the natural end of a long and good life, the poignant still moment of completion when what is mortal is taken up by what is immortal. “Moses was one hundred twenty years old when he died; his sight was unimpaired and his vigor had not abated. The Israelites wept for Moses in the plains of Moab thirty days; then the period of mourning for Moses was ended” (Deut. 34:7-8).
When the death of children was common, when plague, pestilence, and famine took the vulnerable and weak in great numbers, people found a way, even then, to move on, to mourn for a season, and then walk again among the living. In the worst of times, mourners had but moments to feel and express the depth of their sorrow. Babies of a few days, children of a few years, passed in and out of life. The grass withers and the flower fades: a beautiful metaphor if not for our children. This is not a completion, not a celebration, not a longing for a distant reunion. This is the great thief, the enemy who, seeking someone to devour, grasps at the crib of the innocent.
The Lord God speaks to Elijah, as surely the Lord God speaks to us. But speaking, the Lord addresses a whole context, an entire situation, shifting circumstances and changing demands. In a time of famine the Lord leads Elijah to Zaraphath, to live there and to seek from a widow his daily food. The story gets strange. She is desperately poor, having only a handful of meal, a jug of oil, a few sticks for fire. She wants to eat and die with her son. But the man of God wants everything: water and a little cake. At first she protests but then gives in and, as a reward, her supplies remain and she is able to feed herself, her son, and her household. But the son who is saved soon dies. The prophet acts, taking the boy from his mother, carrying him to the upper chamber where he lodged, stretching his body over the child three times, as if, in the Trinitarian name, to warm his cooling flesh. Remarkably, “the life of the child came into him again, and he revived” (1 Kings 17:22). Are we consoled? Are we afraid to be honest? Is our reading real?
Jesus went to a city called Nain. “As he approached the gate of the town, a man who had died was being carried out” (Luke 7:12). Jesus approached the mother and said to her, “Do not weep.” Then he came forward and touched the bier saying, “Young man, I say to you, rise” (7:14). The young man sat up and began to speak! Whatever our hopes for the dead, this is not one of them. We may plead and hope against hope for the sick and the ailing, but death is by definition the end. Why then the wound of this healing? In the Paschal mystery of these strange stories, life is passing to death, and death is coming to life in the return of the dead to the living. “Jesus gave him to his mother” (7:15).
Only loss will teach this lesson, the bitter lesson of the dead living as an undying presence in a broken heart. Among those who weep this night, some will think and feel, “my child is alive” (1 Kings 17:23).
Look It Up
Read Ps. 30. Weeping may spend the night, but joy comes (very slowly) in the mourning.
Think About It
How do I know the dead live? “I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ” (Gal. 1:12).