“Thou are dust and to dust thou shall return.”
I have been around death quite a bit. As a nurse, I specialize in hospice and palliative care: managing the symptoms of those with terminal illness. Dying is not an easy process, and I have helped people with: pain, anxiety, shortness of breath, constipation, delirium, agitation, weakness, fatigue, loss of appetite, nausea and vomiting, wounds, and more. I have seen a lot of things as a hospice nurse. I have seen the young and the very old die. One thing, though, seems universal: the body fights against death. The body’s natural state is to live, not to die. That is why those well-meaning people who say that death is natural will sometimes in their next breath when confronted with an actual dying person, extol the so-called virtues of assisted suicide. It’s not easy to see.
Death is part of the world because sin is part of the world. Like sin, death goes against nature, it perverts the natural state. And Jesus came to reverse them both. He did this more permanently for us by sacrificing himself, suffering our punishment, so that sin and death have no hold over us. We still die, but it is temporary. As St. Paul writes, mockingly, “oh death, where is thy sting?”
When Jesus came to earth, before He died, He showed us His power over death by raising three people from the dead: the widow’s son in Nain, Jairus’ daughter, and Lazarus. He brought them back to life as easily as waking them from sleep, and in fact called it sleep when raising Jairus’ daughter. It was with this in mind that we came to the village of Nain on our Holy Land pilgrimage.
Soon after our tour of Mount Tabor, we came down off the mountain and headed back onto the bus. Our bus driver, David, then took us across the valley to Nain. Nain was where Jesus raised the widow’s son, but other than that incident, is not mentioned in Scripture again.
Soon afterward he went to a town called Nain, and his disciples and a great crowd went with him. As he drew near to the gate of the town, behold, a man who had died was being carried out, the only son of his mother, and she was a widow, and a considerable crowd from the town was with her. And when the Lord saw her, he had compassion on her and said to her, “Do not weep.” Then he came up and touched the bier, and the bearers stood still. And he said, “Young man, I say to you, arise.” And the dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother. Fear seized them all, and they glorified God, saying, “A great prophet has arisen among us!” and “God has visited his people!” And this report about him spread through the whole of Judea and all the surrounding country. Luke 7: 11-17
There is a little church in Nain that commemorates this event. This is what we saw when we got off the bus:
The church was rebuilt by the Catholic Franciscans in 1880 on top of ruins of an ancient church. According to seetheholyland.net, it had been at one time converted to a mosque, as the village has been Muslim since the 12th century (and remains so).
Interestingly, just as we arrived, prayers began in the mosque across the street. We were quiet, but the bus attracted a small number of people coming out to see what we were up to. Unfortunately, the church at Nain is apparently rarely open, and the key to the church now lies with the Franciscans on Mount Tabor. Our guide or bus driver, not sure which, was talking to some of the people gathered from the village, who related to them that there had been a scandal of some sort involving stolen money, whoever was overseeing the church at Nain had left, but hard to say if that is really true. The pilgrims who had been here before did note that the church had been fixed up a bit compared to the last time they had been there.
So we quietly had our devotion while prayers went on at the mosque across the street, and we left.
The story of the widow’s son at Nain illustrates to me that Jesus did not raise people from the dead only to show us He could do it or how easily it can be done. He also did it because He had compassion for His people. The widow without a son was also without a means of support, so she was especially vulnerable. Every thing Jesus did was out of love. He saved her son, but he also saved her, a woman, God’s child. He sees all of our weaknesses and our vulnerabilities, and He has mercy on us. We will still have to go through death, and it will not be easy, just as remembering and confessing our sins during Lent is not easy. But as Jesus has taught us, it is only temporary. Death cannot hold us when Jesus is in control.
“Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.
Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit.”