Several times in my ministry I have had the profound experience of spending time with families during a variety of tragedies. The most profound is when I am blessed to walk along with a parent who is forced to bury a child. I have long believed that human beings are not designed to bury children. As difficult as it can be to bury parents, grandparents and even spouses and siblings, there is a unique pain when a parent is faced with the death of a child, no matter how old that child is.
Today’s Gospel lesson offers us a glimpse of what can happen when a parent, in this case a widowed mother, is faced with such a tragedy. “When He came near the gate of the city, behold, a dead man was being carried out, the only son of his mother; and she was a widow. And a large crowd from the city was with her.” (Luke 7.12) The entire city was gathered around her trying to comfort her pain, but based upon my own experience is similar situations, her pain must have been unbearable. Nothing the crowd could have tried would have been enough to comfort her heart.
Of course there are other experiences in life when we can feel unconsolable pain. There likely will be times in our life when, despite the huge crowd gathered around us, we feel alone and without hope of relief from this pain, and nothing the crowd can say will make a difference. This is also why many times, as members of the crowd, we realize there are no words we can offer. We realize that our role is just to sit with them and pray.
It was God who was the only One able to comfort the widow from Nain, and He will always be there next to us when nothing else matters, when nothing else helps, when nothing else exists, when we are left alone, and she was. It will be God, and only God, who will be the One to hold our hand and comfort our pain. It isn’t that the crowd was useless. Their presence, not their words, is what mattered. It was their willingness to be present and to hold her hand, while God worked in His way.
As we continue along our journey of life as Orthodox Christians, our blessed opportunity won’t always be to be the healing others need. Even brilliant surgeons realize they are not always able to help heal. At those moments, our job will be to be present and to pray. Our job will be to allow God to heal, then to step in and remind each other, “God has visited His people.” (Luke 7.16).