The Episcopal Church of the Holy Innocents 

Pentecost III: Proper 5C RCL...resurrected sons

© 2016 Frank B Crumbaugh III

Today’s lectionary includes two widows, two dead sons, and two holy men restoring to their bereft mothers those previously dead, now-living sons. In each case, resurrection produces testimony praising God and naming the holy man as an agent of God’s loving-kindness.[1]  In each resurrection there are multiple benefits; the mother-son relationships are restored, and each widow’s social and economic standing is preserved. 

There is a symmetry in these lessons that is pleasing in the same way columns on the front porch of a house are pleasing- balanced, intimately related parallel structures carrying a great load seemingly without effort. Since every Sunday is a Feast of The Resurrection, this may be the easiest Sunday of the year after Easter Day itself upon which to embrace the Truth and power of resurrection.

[1] Heb חסד, `hesed  “loving-kindness” 

Perhaps that’s where we are meant to stop and meditate today...loving God for the divine goodness that raises dead children to life and restores them to their parents. We would be neither erroneous nor facile if we stopped at that point. Perhaps the awe-struck wonder of all, even the resurrected young men themselves, is meant to be the frame of our prayers today. Certainly those of us who are parents can imagine how these women felt, and those among us who have lost children don’t have to imagine, possessing instead the personal wound and grief that these women undoubtedly felt- the same grief God Himself knew on Good Friday.  And as parents knowing the enormity of such an event, the miracle of resurrection speaks as nothing else ever will of our Christian Hope. Resurrection IS our Christian Hope, and resurrection is the foundation and starting point for our Faith.  If slack-jawed amazement is where you need to be, please stop reading now.

We worship God for who God is. What God does inevitably animates our worship and praise for who God is, and it is true that God’s actions are clear evidence of God’s identity. And I suppose it is fair to say that resurrection is both the action of God, and the identity of God. But our worship finds its deepest root in the person rather than the action of God, so when we confront the wondrous Hope we find in resurrection, we are brought into a contemplation of who it is that would do such a thing. 

While death is first and foremost a personal experience, it is nevertheless the most public event in human life- even more than birth, since birth commences a condition that is itself governed by death. We struggle and labor to avoid death precisely because it is so defining an event: 

Who would fardels bear,
To grunt and sweat under a weary life,
But that the dread of something after death,
The undiscovered country from whose bourn
No traveler returns, puzzles the will
And makes us rather bear those ills we have
Than fly to others that we know not of?[1]

Flying toward death is not a human desire but it is a human inevitability, and we are conditioned to expect and even treasure death as the best, the most comfortingly dependable of “those ills we have.” We may die at birth, and even, depending upon your feelings about prematurely concluded pregnancies, before birth. No matter the circumstances of birth and life’s duration after it, the mere fact that we use the word “duration” proves death’s place among human events; our expectations of our part in the created order have us coming from a condition of not-being-alive and returning to a condition of not-being-alive. 

The point is that until there is someone to be resurrected, resurrection cannot death, no resurrection. We might go so far as to say that resurrection depends upon death; that would be erroneous since resurrection depends upon God alone, but the mistake is predictable and understandable. 

Resurrection, like death, is a public event. Because of the public nature of it, we might be tempted to wonder if resurrection observes the quandary about trees falling in the woods where no one hears. Are we to understand that without witnesses it doesn’t happen?  Of course not. It’s real whether anyone sees it happen or not, just as the crashing noise of the tree hitting the forest floor is real even if no one hears it. Resurrection does not depend upon our seeing it happen to be real. Resurrection is an undeniable action of God to be known by us but not defined by our observing it.

The two sons in today’s lessons are resurrected and restored to their mothers. For what purpose? It is unquestioned that they went on to die, again[2], at some later time. So why does God acting through Elijah and as Jesus Himself raise them from a physical state to which they will inevitably return? 

They do these things to make clear, using the boundaries we do understand, the limitless nature of life we cannot yet perceive, much less understand…life lived as God lives it. 

These resurrections prepare us for the change, the transition from the time by which we are bounded to the eternity for which we hope. They point us toward what it means to be brought out of the ticking clock of time into the continuous present tense of eternity. And they do so encouraging our hope of heaven, reminding us that 

There's another country, I've heard of long ago,
Most dear to them that love her, most great to them that know;
We may not count her armies, we may not see her King;
Her fortress is a faithful heart, her pride is suffering;
And soul by soul and silently her shining bounds increase,
And her ways are ways of gentleness, and all her paths are peace.[3] 

Love and marvel at the resurrections we can see for what they promise of the resurrections we have not yet seen.

Love you. See you in Church. 

FBC3+, 5 June 2016, being The Third Sunday after Pentecost 

[1] Shakespeare, Hamlet, Act III, scene 1

[2] ...and aren’t we glad that Christianity stands over against “again?” Thankfully, living and dying over and over again- reincarnation- is distinctly outside resurrection since, having once entered the eternal Presence, leaving that Presence for another birth-toward death existence is the very definition of Hell- separation from our fully known God.

[3] Spring-Rice, Cecil. Urbs Dei, 1908