Dear Fathers, Friends in Christ,
St. Luke 7:11f
“Young man, I say unto thee, Arise”
The love of God reaches out and touches. It heals and restores. That love is made visible in the compassion of Christ. Something of the infinite extent of God’s love is somehow brought near. Jesus reaches out to us. He came near, first, to the gates of the city of Nain, then, to the bier carrying the young man who was dead. He reaches out and touches. He speaks healing words, first, to the bereaved mother and then, to the dead. He restores him, first, to life and then, to his mother and to his community. There is resurrection.
The compassion of Christ is the moving force in this story. “And when the Lord saw her, he had compassion on her”. It makes tangibly real the love of God, the love which comes into our midst to touch, to heal and to restore. But there is something more here as well. The love of God made visible and tangibly real in the compassion of Christ does not only come near to us; it enters into the very fabric of our lives so that it may shape our lives in love and compassion. The love of God which here reaches out and touches, heals and restores is to be the moving force in our lives.
Luke begins his account by telling us “that Jesus went into a city called Nain” before describing this encounter which took place as “he came nigh to the city”. His coming near is part of the process of his entering into the fabric of our lives. The compassion of Christ is to be made visible and tangibly real in us. It belongs to the witness of the Church, a witness so tangibly real and so powerfully demonstrated in the works of corporal mercy. These are ‘the works of the body for the body and in the body of Christ’. They are sometimes made dramatically visible as, for example, in the life and work of Mother Teresa. The compassion of Christ is what reaches out and touches, heals and restores.
The children of the Sunday School are inviting you to engage in one of the works of corporal mercy, the work of “feeding the hungry”. It is, ultimately, a work of faith in which we reach out to the poor and the hungry in our own community.
Poverty is a complicated and complex affair in our contemporary culture, far more, perhaps, than we realize. We often misapprise it and avert our gaze. It is, at once, social, economic, psychological, political, generational, geographical; in short, it is a profoundly spiritual problem. It confronts us like the young man dead on a bier before Christ. But what shall we do? Turn away and step aside? Walk over them as if they weren’t there? Wag our fingers in judgement and shake our heads disapprovingly? No. “The poor you have with you always”, Jesus tells us, “you can do with them what you will”. What do we will? The children of the Sunday School propose an offering of money to go to the local Food Bank in time for Thanksgiving. I hope that you will support their effort generously. And beyond that? Well, I hope that we can do something more and more regularly, like placing a box in the narthex of the Church for gifts of food to complement the poor-box for the giving of alms. Such things are nothing less than the visible tokens of the compassion of Christ moving in us.
The compassion of Christ in the gospel and in the example of human lives recalls us to a profounder understanding of our humanity. To say, as is commonly said, that our world is simply ‘driven by technology’ or that we are merely ‘economically determined’ is to overlook or forget that we belong to a much more complex web of relationships. This gospel story shows us that the real driving force of our lives must be the compassion of Christ.
The compassion of Christ would reconstitute our human lives upon a divine foundation. Ultimately, the truth of our humanity is to be found precisely in the love of God. Without that we are left simply and utterly bereft. We would be like the widow of Nain - always weeping, without consolation. And that, perhaps, is the best thing that could be said about us, for at least then there is an awareness of our emptiness and need, even the need to forgive and be forgiven. The worst thing would be our arrogant selfishness and the terror of our technological tyranny over and against one another.
The compasssion of Christ shown in the gospel is a real and powerful force. It is shown so as to be lived by all of us. Christ has not just come near; he has entered into the very fabric of our lives to shape us in his love and compassion. It is a life-long process - a growing in love and understanding. We don’t always get it right. After all, even in Nain following this remarkable encounter, they mistook the nature of the moving force in their midst. Some said “that a great prophet is risen up among us” and others, coming closer but still standing afar off in understanding, said “that God hath visited his people”, as if there is just the coming and going of God, here today and gone tomorrow.
These were the “rumours of him” that “went forth throughout all Judaea”, St. Luke tells us. But in identifying the moving force of the story, namely, the compassion of Christ, he is also telling us about what abides in and through the comings and goings of our own lives. The compassion of Christ is an abiding love. We are to abide in that love so that it may take shape and move in us.
The compasssion of Christ is the moving force, too, of the Church’s life. It reaches out and touches, heals and restores us to one another and to God. And it compels us to reach out, touch, heal and restore in the name of Christ. Christ enters in that he may take shape in us. Such is the continuing nature of the resurrection. We are bidden to arise and to live in the compassion of Christ.
“Young man, I say unto thee, Arise”
Father Ed Bakker,
Anglican Catholic Church / Original Province
Mission of Saint Aidan of Lindisfarne