In this weekend’s readings we hear of two widows losing their only sons and then those sons being miraculously restored to life, one by the prophet Elijah and the other by Jesus. Both Elijah and Jesus are moved with compassion by the grief of the widows. Elijah has to call on God and go through an elaborate routine to beg for the son’s life. Jesus simply tells the dead young man to get up and gives him to his mother, just as from the cross he will give his own mother and the beloved disciple to each other: woman, this is your son; son, this is your mother. In the face of death, which appears to destroy family bonds, Jesus is always creating and restoring relationships.
The widow of Zarephath recognises the power of God’s word in Elijah when he brings her son back to life, and when Jesus gives the widow of Nain her son back, the crowds realise they have been visited by God. Those final lines of each passage tell us that the purpose of each of these miracles is to reveal God’s victory over death.
Every bereaved person longs to hear the words those widows heard: your loved one is alive. Such miracles are not granted to us in this world. That is why Paul says the message he preaches, the message handed on to us, is not a human message but a revelation from God. You couldn’t make it up: since Christ is risen, death has no power over him or us. The sadness and grief we feel when someone close to us dies will be replaced, not by the temporary relief of our loved one being given back to us for a few more weeks or years, but by the unbelievable joy of being together with them for ever. Humanly speaking, that is unbelievable, and yet we believe it and take comfort it, knowing that it is not a human message, but the promise of God.