One day when I was a kid, we were going to Grandma’s house for Sunday dinner, and rocket came up the road the other direction. It was exciting: this was the Mercury and Gemini days, when everything would stop to watch a space launch. Now we’d have a rocket in our backyard.
But it was a Minuteman missile pointed at the Soviet Union. If it flew, it meant the world would end, at least the world as we knew it.
I remember growing up during the Cold War. We read the history of World War 2, the invasion of D Day, whose anniversary we just celebrated, the fall of Hitler and the division of Europe. Winston Churchill gave his famous Iron Curtain speech in Fulton, MO on March 5, 1946. The missiles were all around my hometown of Higginsville. When I was 5, the Berlin Wall went up: I didn’t remember it then, but I thought it would never come down in my lifetime. I think all of us who lived then thought that.
Then one day it happened. It was like a dream, it was incredible seeing Germans from east and west standing on top of the Wall carrying on, knowing it would come down soon. It was Hope beyond Hope, the Wall coming down, the Warsaw Pact falling apart and the Soviet Union disintegrating. Too good to be true. Hope beyond hope came about.
In Biblical times, childlessness was thought a curse from God. If you didn’t have a son to take care of you, your old age was uncertain and could be very tragic, living in abject poverty. Children would take care of their parents, would work to support them, and they were considered a blessing. The death of an only son for a widow was a hammer blow: it’s bad enough today, but catastrophe in a time without a safety net. There was no social security and no one could take care of a stranger; most families had enough trouble taking care of their own. The ruling classes could have cared less who lived or died, particularly old women that weren’t capable of hard work. The Romans didn’t care if people starved. Both the widow in the First Reading and the Widow of Nain in the Gospel were victims, people whose fate was lamentable. Who knew what would become of them?
Then came life beyond death, hope beyond hope. A bleak future that seemed to stretch out beyond sight was suddenly gone. A man was restored to his community, his family, his mother. Restoration happened by a miracle, the act of God’s love and mercy. Jesus came to them and made a difference; Jesus gave them hope beyond hope, hope when all hope was lost. Jesus healed them, Jesus made things whole.
Things aren’t terribly bad today, no matter what we think. We see the ills of our time and lament what needs to be fixed, sure, we wish it was like when we were younger. I’m glad not to be living in a time when we knew World War III was going to end the world in a nuclear holocaust, that any moment the Russians or Americans were going to push the button and the missiles would rise from our backyards. I wish we weren’t still at war after a dozen years. Yet for most of us, life is good and as long as there’s life there’s hope.
God gives us hope that all will be right in the end. God promises us restoration, resurrection, that all wounds will be healed, that all His promises will be fulfilled. This faith in God helps us see what’s important, helps us see that since everything will be all right in the end, we can look at life differently today, see what’s good around us and where God is already making things new.
Jesus comes to us in the Eucharist today just like He came to the widow of Nain and her village. Jesus promises us New Life today, becomes part of us, teaches us what’s important in life and that we should look forward in hope. Jesus raises us up today and every day, to a new life in Him. Our challenge is to embrace that New Life, that New Healing, that New Hope.