By Rev. Heather Blais, Rector
This week, we encounter Jesus on the tail end of his journey from Capernaum to the village of Nain. This trip took about a day, but with all of his disciples and the large crowd following him, it may have taken him even longer. Yet the gospel makes no mention of his journey, except to say that as he approached the edge of the town, there was a funeral procession for a young man who had died. There was a single mother, walking and weeping, that caught Jesus’ attention.
The woman had no husband. No other children. No father or brothers. When Jesus gazed at her, he seemed to look deep inside her very soul and life. He saw the unimaginable and incomprehensible pain of a parent who had lost her only child. He saw the hopeless future that lie in store for this widow, with no one to provide or care for her. Jesus saw a woman that was completely and utterly alone, walking towards the place where she would bury her only child. She might as well have been walking to her own grave. Because in the blink of an eye, she was now one of the poorest of the poor, having no family to look after her.
Yet something happened when Jesus encountered this woman’s deep pain. He had compassion on her. Jesus told the woman not to weep, and then came forward to the body and said, “Young man, I say to you, rise!” The dead man sat up and began to speak. Then, in one of the most beautiful scenes imaginable, Jesus gave him to his mother.
In this moment, Jesus did two things. First, he took action when he witnessed someone being pressed out beyond the margins of society. He advocated for her by resurrecting her son--the only one on this earth left to protect, care, and provide for her. He modeled for his disciples and the crowd, that when we encounter someone shoved to the side of society with no one to care for them, that it is our job to find a way to help care for them. His actions challenge his followers to not just sit idly by, but to be a people who take action when we see that something is wrong.
The second thing Jesus did was he encountered this woman’s deep pain and the young man’s death, and brought forth new life. Out of death and hopelessness, he springs forth resurrection life and hope. Something we see him do again, and again, and again. While we may not see bodily resurrection very often, most of us are here because we have experienced, or are seeking, the compassion that Christ has for us when we bring him our deepest pain, sorrow, and fears. How many times have we experienced death in some form, only to experience something new springing forth--the kind of new life and hope that could only have come from God?
There is another mother and father who lost their daughter not so long ago. An unimaginable, incomprehensible pain. A week after marching with her high school majorettes in President Obama’s second inaugural parade, 15 year old Hadiya Pendleton was gunned down and killed in a South side park in Chicago after school. Yet through the pain of her death, something new was born. Her family and friends asked Hadiya’s classmates to commemorate her life--and the lives of hundreds claimed by Chicago gun violence each year--by wearing orange.
Why orange? They said,“Orange is used because hunters wear orange to warn other hunters not to shoot. By wearing orange, we are showing others that we are human and wish not to be gunned down.”
While Hadiya cannot be brought back to life as the young man in today’s Gospel was, numerous groups around the country, including Bishops United Against Gun Violence and Episcopalians Against Gun Violence, have declared last Thursday, June 2nd, which is Hadiya’s birthday, as National Gun Violence Awareness Day.
Bishop Fisher invited Episcopalians across our diocese to wear orange as a sign of solidarity, ‘that we are human and wish not to be gunned down.’ He invited clergy to wear orange stoles today and to talk about the importance of gun violence awareness. The hope is that the resurrection and new life that comes from Hadiya’s death is to raise gun violence awareness. That her death will inspire us to be a people of action.
One of our parishioners, Carol DeRose, shared this story with her grandson, Jonathan, when he showed her a bright orange bear he had recently won in one of those grabber claw games. She shared that there were some priests and others who were getting new stoles in orange to bring awareness to gun violence, and she mentioned that I didn’t have an orange stole and wondered what to do. The next morning before church, Jonathan went to Carol and said he wanted to give me the orange bear so I had something orange, and he even gave it a bear stole, hoping that the bear might help us in talking about gun violence awareness.
I’ll be honest, I love this orange bear more than any stole that I might have gotten for this occasion. Primarily because Jonathan’s bear is a visual wake up call for adults everywhere. If a child understands the importance of this public health crisis, while we as a nation sit idly by, then we have ourselves a real problem.
In today’s gospel, Jesus asks us to be a people of action, he asks us to be a people that seeks out those shoved to the margins of society. Well Hadiya, and each and everyone one of the 91 people that are killed each and every day to gun violence, are asking us bring awareness and take action. Something has got to change. And it begins with us. Amen.
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