And He approached and touched the bier, and those bearing it stood still. And He said: “Young man, I say to thee, arise.” And the dead man sat up and began to talk. And He gave him to his mother. [Lk.7:14-15]
The young man in the Gospel reading this morning was lifeless; his very heart had stopped beating. His future earthly plans were now in shambles; his mother was grieving for her great loss. And then into the emptiness of death walked the brilliance of everything that is. And those lifeless members of his body that were dead were now restored to life and humanity.
Both the mother and son would eventually repose in their mortality because this life that we now struggle with is just temporary. But there is another kind of death that we wrestle with that is even greater than mortality. If we spend our days and hours without Christ we will truly learn what it means to suffer. Venerable St. Bade says: “Whoever will not guard his senses, leaves open a way for death to enter!” And St. Ambrose writes: “You must not be greatly troubled about many things, but you should care for the main thing — preparing yourself for death.” St. Ambrose of Optina, quoted from Living Without Hypocrisy: Spiritual Counsels of the Holy Elders of Optina
Our body will return to the earth but not be lost, and our soul will embrace judgment. Jesus said: “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believeth in Me, though he die, he shall live; “and everyone who liveth and believeth in Me, in no wise shall ever die. Believest thou this?” [Jn. 11:25-26] These ideas are captured in the Epistle of the Eastern Patriarchs on the Orthodox Faith: “We believe that the souls of the dead are in a state of blessedness or torment according to their deeds. After being separated from the body they immediately pass over either to joy or into sorrow and grief; however, they do not feel either complete blessedness or complete torment. For complete blessedness or complete torment each one receives after the general resurrection, when the soul is reunited with the body in which it lived in virtue or vice.” (The Epistle of the Eastern Patriarchs on the Orthodox Faith, paragraph 18)
Be not afraid for God is working in our lives to save us from our destruction. His grace is an invisible element in the air we breathe with visible results. His grace is the love of your Heavenly Father longing for you to come home. Christ touches our deathly bier at the Sacrament of Holy Communion, restoring that which was confessed to newness. “Fear not, for I am with you; Be not dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, Yes, I will help you, I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.” (Isaiah 41:10)
St. Dorotheos of Gaza writes: “A man obtains the fear of God if he has the remembrance of his unavoidable death and of the eternal torments that await sinners; If he tests himself every evening as to how he has spent the day, and every morning as to how he has spent the night, and if he is not sharp in his relations with others.” (St. Dorotheos, Soul-Profiting Teachings, 4)
Let go of this world and its death and thirst for the next! Do not be troubled and hold on to Christ who has defeated death with death and is waiting for you to come home!
Fr. Gabriel Weller 10/22/17