Saturday, June 5, 2010

Grieving widows find comfort and new life

1 Kings 17:17-24; Luke 7:11-17
June 6, 2010
First, let me ask about last week’s challenge to think about the persona of the Trinity to whom you pray. How many of you pray mostly to God the Father? … the Son? … the Holy Spirit? How many tried to pray differently? Did you learn anything from asking yourself these questions? …
As I’ve pondered the readings for this week, I can’t help thinking about widows and widowers I’ve known.
Some of them adjust well to life without their loved one. They often have had jobs or an active volunteer life while married. That doesn’t mean they don’t miss and mourn their husbands, but they have found that life goes on.
Six months after Sharon died after battling cancer, Dick married Jeanne, a friend of the family for many years.
Hannah has lost several family members in recent years, and never forgets them, but continues to be involved in her life at church, and in her family, using her gifts to help other people.
Others don’t do so well, and have a really hard time living without their spouse. Many of you will remember how Myrtle struggled after her beloved Bill died. She seemed so lost, so dependent on those around her. She moved to be near her sons, and seems to be doing better.
I remember how Ed was never the same after his wife Doris died. He had walked miles every day on his mail route, and come home to walk another mile or two with Doris in their daily outing. When he came to church, he always envisioned Doris in the casket at the front of the sanctuary. He said it gave him comfort. He died a year and a half after Doris did, and I was surprised he lived that long.
In a short time, John’s mother, sister, and brother all died unexpectedly. He spent the next several years locked in despair, until he gradually began to come out of it and sought help for his grief.
The loss of loved ones hurts, in more ways than just emotions. When our loved ones die, we don’t necessarily lose our homes, although that is a reality for the poorest folks in society. With half of a couple’s Social Security gone, there may not be enough income for the survivor to maintain the home, and they may be forced to move in with family, or go into a nursing home. They may even become homeless. That was the risk for the widows in our Bible stories this morning.
The reading from First Kings begins, “After this.” It’s always a good plan to read back, to find out what has already happened. So,, here’s the back story: Elijah had fled from the wrath of Jezebel to hide in the wilderness. There was a famine, so he had no food. One day, he heard God’s voice telling him to lie by the stream, and he would be fed. A raven brought him food for many days.
After his strength was restored, he was sent to the widow of Zarephath. She and her son were down to their last meal. Elijah asked her to share it with him, and she did. From then on, the jars of meal and oil were never empty. But then, the woman’s son became ill and died.
…By now, Elijah has grown fond of the widow and her son. When the boy dies, he grieves as she does, and he goes to his room and yells at God for the injustice of it. The boy’s life is restored.
When the widow of Nain’s husband died, she still had a son. It was his responsibility to take care of her, and in return, she would take care of his household. With the death of the son, she had no one left. She would be homeless in no time, and unless someone else took care of her, her only option was to live as a beggar on the streets. She grieved her son’s death as well as feared for her own future.
Unexpectedly, Jesus intervened. Let’s use our imaginations for a moment, and put this story into our own time. Someone, let’s call him George, has died. His mother has been living with him, and wonders what’s going to happen to her now. George has been embalmed, the casket has been closed, and we’ve had his funeral service. We put the casket into the coach and all driven to the cemetery.
As the procession from the coach to the gravesite forms, Jesus comes to stop the procession. The funeral director and I turn to watch as Jesus turns to the widow and puts an arm around her, giving her a reassuring hug. Don’t cry, he says gently. It’s going to be all right. Jesus lovingly touches the casket and asks the staff to open it. Jesus says, “George, get up!” And George sits up and we all help him get out of the casket. He first hugs his mother, and then greets us all.
Who among us would not want to have this happen, especially when a child or young adult dies? In the case of the two widows from our story, the restoration of life was a sign of God’s care for each person. The stories have been told and retold to give us all hope, to help us trust in God’s goodness.
The response of the widow of Zarephath was, “I know you are a man of God, and the words you speak for God is the truth.” This widow was not a Jew, but a Gentile, and she learned that Elijah’s God was better than her own. She learned about the love of God for her. How many people did she tell the story to? Dozens? Hundreds?
The response of the widow of Nain and the mourners with her was joy in the restoration of her son. It was fear and awe for the God who made it possible. A reassurance that God loved and cared for someone as unimportant as a poor widow who had just lost her only son and source of support. And increasing notice of Jesus who seemed to be a prophet sent by God. How many people do you suppose they told? Hundreds? Thousands?
When I’ve heard or read the story of the widow of Nain before, I imagined Jesus touching the bier in a mechanical sort of way. But this time my reading was different. There was love in his touch, as he tenderly reached out to the young man and his mother. He felt the pain of her grief, and he felt the son’s sadness at leaving his mother alone.
As we grieve our losses, God is present with us. Later today, as we say goodbye to Evelyn, we will be sad at our own loss. She brought such love and determination to everything she did, we will really miss her. We love her husband Bobby too, and will surround him with the love and care we have always shown him.
Through our love, God’s love is demonstrated just as surely as it was when Jesus touched the bier and told the young man to rise. And just as surely as it was when Elijah cried out to God, and the boy came to life again.
We all wish our loved ones could be brought back to life, as if no illness had ever overtaken them. But that’s not what happens. Instead, we are left here to witness to the love they shared with us, and the love God has shown to us through Jesus. We witness to that love through the way we care for and about others.
Your challenge for this week is to think about God’s presence as you grieve; or to give a sign of God’s love to someone you know is grieving. Give yourself a break as you learn to live without that loved one; it takes time, and it’s ok to be sad and feel a little crazy. Give someone a hug, a note, or a call, to show you care, and so does God.
Please pray with me: Loving God, you give new life to us even at our worst times. We know you care for us, and want us to share that love with others. Help us to be comforted when we grieve, and to comfort those who grieve. In Jesus’ name, Amen