16 Trinity 2008 – Nativity of the B.V.M.

The Sixteenth Sunday After Trinity & The Nativity of the B.V.M.
Also: ‘Patriot’s Day’ week end
September 7, 2008
Verse 12 & 13 of St. Luke 7:11-17
‘I Say To Thee, Arise!’

On the Church’s Liturgical calendar today is the Sixteenth Sunday After Trinity and today we are also anticipating by one day the commemoration of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary. And as it so happens, both fall upon the weekend of the newest commemoration on our national calendar, known as Patriot’s Day, the day on which we remember the tragic events of September 11th; the attack upon the United States by crazed terrorists who first hijacked and then piloted three American aircraft filled with hundreds of passengers into densely occupied landmark buildings in New York City and Washington, D.C., killing many thousands of people.

Today’s collect for Trinity XVI is for the Church, but with minor adaptation it could just as readily be offered for our country on this most important weekend of remembrance. If it were so modified, we would pray: ‘O Lord, we beseech thee, let thy continual pity cleanse and defend our Country; and, because it cannot continue in safety without thy succor, preserve it evermore by thy help and goodness; through Jesus Christ our Lord.’

In lower Manhattan and at the Pentagon in the aftermath of September 11th the bodies of the dead were dug out from under massively high piles of rubble to be carried off to makeshift morgues. But the bodies of thousands more would never be found.

As a result of the sudden attack, like the widow in this morning’s gospel account, spouses of many of the fatalities found themselves suddenly widowed, though in her case she had been widowed some years before. Like her, many parents lost an only child, a son, a daughter in the disastrous attacks. Many of these parents, like the widow, were now old, and some even when in the prime of their years could not have yielded more children even if they had wanted or had tried to. Spouses and progeny: many were carried out. Many more would never be found, their bodies having vaporized in the holocaust of the fires and the massive structural collapse.

Indeed on that dreadful day there came a fear on all, on that day of agony and grief and suffering and sorrow. And there quickly came a fear on all that there might come another attack elsewhere. Fear unlike the fear that fell on the crowd that had watched Jesus halt the funeral procession, touch the bier, command the dead young man to arise and deliver him to his mother. For that mother and the fellow mourners the agony and grief, and suffering and sorrow that would surely have intensified once they’d come to the grave, had suddenly and abruptly been put to an end. There was no reason for sorrow now, but reason only for great joy!

Some immediately glorified God, saying that a great prophet had risen up among them and that God had visited his people. They had every reason to glorify God! But glorifying God was not uppermost in the minds of those who were present to witness the tragic events of 9/11. Crying out to God took place; but in all probability, the singing of his praise was not to be heard. We’d been attacked! People were in shock, too stunned, too confused, too afraid, some too angry, for anything like that! Who could praise God at such a time? Did you?

But during the lapse between the time of the attacks and the buildings collapsing and plummeting many people did seek God. Many from inside the burning buildings and many watching from the streets beneath. Some for the first time! Some for the first time in years, returning in prayer after years of ignoring Him. And there were some who simply stood and cursed God and blamed him for what had happened or for letting it happen. Some on that day ceased to believe in him at all.

Some who on that dreadful day had turned to or returned to God have remained faithful to him ever since. And some sought only momentary solace and, without any further attacks upon our soil, have since returned to their sinful ways and to the complacency of business as usual. Will it take another massive attack to dissuade them from their present path and convince them that our lives continue beyond this sphere and that we are accountable to God for them?

Her world had been attacked and for all intent destroyed! It had all come crashing down! All that in which she trusted, her hopes and future dreams – that she would live to see grandchildren and dandle them on her knees, and that her only son would surely outlive her – that world was suddenly turned upside down. Her hopes, her dreams, her son were all dead now.

This dead man, the only son of his mother, was being carried out of the city in a funeral procession made up of his mother and a cluster of family and friends, to be taken to his place of burial: this just as Jesus with several of his disciples were drawing nigh unto the city. That is how Jesus came upon the tragic scene.

Jesus saw her and had compassion on her: it was within his very nature to respond to tragedy. It was out of compassion that Jesus healed a leper, two blind men, an epileptic boy and a demon possessed man and outside of Nain raised this only son of a mother from death. It was out of compassion for multitudes of the hungry that he fed the crowds of 5,000 and 4,000. It was compassion he felt for another crowd because they were as sheep without a shepherd. And he taught his disciples three distinct parables that included the virtue of compassion, including the parable of the Good Samaritan who showed compassion to a fallen enemy.

Jesus had compassion: it was within his very nature to respond in time of human tragedy. And it is within the nature of the American people to show compassion for others they come upon or hear about in times of national or personal tragedy. As on 9/11 when the American people had compassion and rallied on behalf of all those who had suffered tragic, irreplaceable losses – the lives of their loved ones, gone forever, perished – leaving many behind who in the days ahead would struggle for closure.

The American people prayed for the survivors and also remembered those who had perished. And just as they always do in response to times of a major disaster, they gave of their treasure to emergency organizations and many volunteered their personal time to go and assist in an expeditious search for survivors – and to locate and recover the dead. In the midst of unfathomable tragedy it was one of compassionate America’s finest hours.

But if only those dead could have been brought back to life, as Jesus had brought her only son back to life. If only one could have said to those dead, ‘I say unto thee, Arise!’ And if only they could have been delivered alive into the arms of loved ones. If only they could rise up from the Valley of dry bones to be rejoined and again be filled with the Breath of Life! If only! But that was not to be for now.

But it will be then: when the Lord Returns. Of those the Lord raised up from the dead: The little girl to whom he said at the deathbed, ‘Talitha, cumi!’(little girl, arise), and she arose. His elderly friend Lazarus to whom he said at the gravesite, ‘Lararus, come forth!’ and he came forth. This man, the only son of his mother to whom he said, ‘Young man, I say unto thee, Arise!’ and he that was dead sat up. All these he called back from the dead, he resuscitated them: he brought them back to life.

I say Jesus resuscitated them: he did not resurrect them! For they all eventually died again. And we know that because none of them survived beyond their natural life span. None survived beyond the end of the first century. From the scriptures we learn that Lazarus, having been brought back to life, had his life threatened with annihilation by the enemies of Jesus. They earnestly sought to put him under, though they did not succeed with their devilish plot. The little girl, the young man, like old Lazarus may all have lived to mature years, but eventually they would succumb to death again. They would not live forever: Not in this life!

But they will live forever in the NEXT. For that is Jesus’ promise to ALL who believe in him and accept him and trust in him and have made him their Lord and Saviour and who subsequently follow him taking up the Cross throughout this present life. They will one day arise from their graves at the Resurrection on the Last Great Day. Arise when, as St. Paul admonished the Thessalonians, ‘The Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the archangel’s call, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And at the Dead in Christ shall rise first; then we who are alive, who are left, shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air; and so shall we ever be with the Lord.’

I wish to return in these closing moments to the gate of the city, not of Nain, but of Manhattan. To another man who there like countless others was eventually carried out – dead!
Though he had two sisters he was the only son of his mother, a widow. Although his father had died some time earlier, I believe she too had died a few years in the past. When this dead man was carried out there were many that accompanied his pallet or stretcher. Many of these you see were old friends, friends he had made over the several years he had served as a chaplain to the firemen of lower Manhattan. He was a priest and Franciscan monk, named Father Mychal Judge.

A widely published account claims that the chaplain was hit by debris after removing his fire helmet to give last rites to a senior fire officer who had himself been killed by the falling body of a woman who had jumped from the tower. Mychal died a hero and in the eyes of the many who knew him, he also died a saint. He one time had said of his own father’s death (who died when Mychal was only six), ‘When tragedy strikes us at an early age, maybe religion takes on a greater meaning. The closer the tragedy is to our heart and home, the more likely faith is to form, because we have been tested and tried, and from that comes faith.”

He was a seasoned pastor who had seen and ministered to many tragedies and many of his words are germane to the tragedy and aftermath of 9/11 when people were looking for answers. ‘There are really no answers that you can give to people, but somehow you have to give them the eternal vision of God.’

Said a close friend, ‘He was my confessor, spiritual advisor and my best friend. He was my ideal of what a priest should be and, above all, he was a living example of Jesus Christ.’ His ministry extended to crime victims, the homeless, AIDS sufferers, alcoholics and the homo-sexual community of lower Manhattan – all found a friend in the gray-haired Franciscan with the big Irish smile. He himself had for a time fallen victim to alcoholism, and the day of his funeral was the 23rd anniversary of his sobriety.

At the funeral the homilist spoke of how this saintly man would recount one by one the blessings God had given him, and for which he was constantly grateful; chief among them his family, his friends and his priesthood as a Franciscan. Mychal said once to a friend, ‘Do you know what I want? Nothing – absolutely nothing! I am the happiest man on the face of the earth.’ He knew how to create and to find happiness.

If only such dead as Mychal, such as perished on 9/11 could have been brought back to life as Jesus had brought that only son back to life. If only these could rise up from the Valley of dry bones and be filled with the Breath of Life! But that is not to be for now. But it will be then: when the Lord Returns, when the Dead in Christ shall rise first! They will join with the little girl, the young man, with Lazarus with all the Saints and all the Angels of heaven before the throne of heavenly grace, the Throne of Almighty God, to then sing his praise, ‘Holy, Holy, Holy!’

For the many tragedies we must face in life, ‘..there are really no answers that you can give to people, but somehow you have to give them the eternal vision of God.’