Without a husband to protect her and without nature’s bounty, she walks in hunger, an only son at her side. Her options are few. She decides to gather sticks, make a fire, bake bread, and share a last supper with her son. From a distance, the man of God, Elijah, calls out, “Bring me a little water in a vessel, so that I may drink” (1 Kgs. 17:10). As she departs to bring it, he begs for more: “Bring me a morsel of bread in your hand” (1 Kgs. 17:11). Touched by love or hunger’s delirium, she prepares bread for the stranger first. Elijah says the jar of meal will not be emptied and the oil will not run out.
This is, of course, the Bible, a land where providence is on full display. The man of God brings a miracle, but only as a foretaste of the one and final miracle. In time, the woman’s son dies. Now she cries in protest, “What have you against me, O man of God? You have come to bring my sin to remembrance, and to cause the death of my son” (1 Kgs. 17:18). Strangely, the man extends his body over the woman’s child. He does it three times, unknowingly invoking the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. The death of the child is united to the death of Christ, and, in miraculous fashion, the child is united to the undying life of the risen Lord. “See, your son is alive” (1 Kgs. 17:23).
The Lord upholds the orphan and widow. The Lord lifts up those who are cast down (Ps. 146). The Lord may do it in any nation, among any people, in his grace and freedom. The resurrection of Jesus Christ is the resurrection of humanity. The Easter Acclamation means this: O Lord, you have drawn me up, you have healed me, you have brought me up from Sheol, you have restored me to life, you have turned my mourning into a dance (Ps. 30:1-3).
But I know. The death of a child is a different death, a different sorrow. Consolation may come in hoped-for and unexpected ways, but only with considerable time measured in years. Part of healing is letting death be just what it is, the end. What is faith, then? The substance of things hoped for. What things? Faith is a strange and hidden work, God’s election, God choosing according to his will and good pleasure to reveal his Son as the One who lives evermore (Gal. 1:15-16). Faith is the arching hope that the death and life of the Lord extend over every child, every man, every woman, human nature, what we are.
Jesus says to a grieving woman, “Do not weep.” Humanly speaking, it’s a cruel thing to say. Weeping does not spend the night; tears are the bread of days and nights and weeks and years. Jesus, however, speaks from another place, and is himself the hoped-for end. Jesus restored the young man to his mother, which the spiritual eye reads thusly: “All we go down to the dust; yet even at the grave we make our song: Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia” (“The Burial of the Dead,” Book of Common Prayer, p. 499).
I go to a grave, often. I go to church more often. “Just as bread that comes from the earth, after God’s blessing has been invoked upon it, is no longer ordinary bread, … so too our bodies, which partake of the Eucharist, are no longer corruptible, but possess the hope of resurrection” (Irenaeus, Liturgia Horarum, vol. III, p. 84)