St Michael and All Angels

Observatory, Cape Town

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Trinity XVI : Fr Tony Hogg

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 She was moving as in a trance. No sights or sounds nor smells penetrated the curtains of her consciousness as she proceeded to the cemetery. The accompanying crowd might not as well have been there. All around her hung the barrier of her bereavement, isolating her to everything, except the fact that she had once lost her husband, and now she had lost her son. A defenceless woman alone in the world. In Chapter seven of his sensitive Gospel, St Luke sets the widow of Nain along with three others as instances of people standing the other side of a barrier. A centurion living behind a high wall of racial difference, aware of his remoteness. John the Baptist walled up in the prison of his doubts. A nameless woman on the other side of the moral partition which ran through the midst of respectable society. This woman of Nain was the second in this series of four barred-off people. It is Luke only who tells her story. That is not surprising for Luke’s Gospel is the one which gives prominence and shows the most compassion for the place of women at the time of Jesus.
This woman’s isolating barrier was her sorrow. Sorrow can isolate. Bereavement can isolate. Even friends can be known to shun the society of the bereaved. Awkward with sadness, clumsy with sorrow, they turn their steps away. The withdrawal of friends, however, is not that which constitutes the isolation. It is the numbing, unbelievable, unaccepted ( as yet) consciousness that a person loved is beyond the reach of human touch or sight. No hope stirred in this woman’s heart, no faith reached out to Jesus, she made no appeal. There is no evidence that she was even aware of his existence.
But he watched her. And his heart went out to her. That is the Gospel for this sixteenth Sunday after Trinity. Just that. The Lord (unusually St Luke uses that title) was moved by the sight of a woman in tears behind a separating wall of heartbreaking sorrow. And he crossed that wall for no other reason than compassion, just as he crossed it for the three other cases described in chapter seven of St Luke.
The Lord does not always give back loved ones, even from the jaws of death, though this does sometimes happen. But he stands by, and is watching. What is more significant, his heart goes out and through the isolating wall of sorrow. There is nothing else that can penetrate this barrier, but compassion. Christ has it. God has it. It reaches out to all, long before they even ask or think of it. This is the lesson, love only will break through the isolating barriers of bereavement. If we are wise, we shall let that restoring love reach out and through to us where we stand, as someday we shall, in the company of this woman, behind her separating wall.


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