Adults: Two Processions
In the coming election we have two political parties and two candidates representing each party…but I am not going to talk about either one. Now that I have your attention I am going to talk about two things. In the Divine Liturgy there are two processions called the Small Entrance and the Great Entrance. The first or Small Entrance is the priest carrying the Gospel book and only goes from the altar to the solea. The second or Great Entrance is the priest carrying the gifts of bread and wine, preceded by all the acolytes, processing around the inside of the nave, down the north aisle and up the middle aisle onto the solea and into the altar.
Today’s Gospel reading from the Third Sunday of Luke (7:11-16) also has two processions. On one hand, there is what I would call the Jesus procession. The Christ is entering the city called Nain and his followed by His disciples and a large crowd (v.11). On the other hand, there is the funeral procession of a dead man who was the only son of his mother who also was a widow, followed by a crowd from the city (v.12). In his book, “This is My Beloved Son: Listen to Him vol.2, pp.58-62, Fr. Anthony Coniaris writes that the group with Jesus is a procession of life and that the group with the widow is a procession of death.
What happens when these to processions meet? Jesus leading the procession of life sees the procession of death and the poor widow of Nain, first without a husband and now childless. He sees the tragedy and Jesus has compassion on the widow and tells her “do not weep.” (v.13). Jesus, who is the resurrection and the life (John 11:25), touches the open coffin (Greek = soros) and says to the dead person, “Arise!” (v.14). The young man sat up alive in the coffin and began to speak and Jesus presented him back to his mother. The procession of life conquers the procession of death. Most of us have been a part of a funeral procession but have we ever participated in a procession of life? It makes me think of Negro slaves who, when one of their own family died, probably rejoiced to some degree because the that person was finally free, going from earthly slavery to heavenly freedom.
Some people think I have not seen anyone raised from the dead, so maybe this God thing is all made up. Yet, we forget that Jesus, during His three-year earthly ministry raised only three people from the dead: Jairus’ daughter (Lk.8:40-56; Mt.9:18-26; Mk.5:21-24), Lazaros the brother of Mary and Martha (Jn.11:1-45) and today, the son of the Widow of Nain. Surely, He encountered more, so raising the physically dead was not the main purpose of Jesus’ mission to the world. His primary goal was to preach and teach the Word of God in order to raise everyone from spiritual death, which is separation from God.
The Apostle Paul, in today’s Epistle reading (2Corinthians 6:1-10) writes to the Christians in Corinth, not about two processions, but about two states or manners of being or two ways of existing. His baseline assumption is that as Christians we are ‘synergoi’ or coworkers with God (v.1) and that we are God’s ‘diakonoi’ or ministers/servants with a ‘diakonia’ or a service/ministry (v.3). Side note here, we cannot truly be Christians without actually doing something that is central to the ministry and service of the Church to the world. Then St. Paul juxtaposes these two ways of living as servants of God:
8by honor and dishonor, by evil report and good report; as deceivers, and yet true; 9as unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and behold we live; as chastened, and yet not killed; 10as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing all things.
One way of living is being part of the procession of death: dishonor, evil report, deceivers, unknown, dying, chastened, sorrowful, poor and having nothing. But St. Paul’s emphasis is a little different. He is talking about how we relate to the world and/or how the world relates to us who belong to Christ (who die with Him, Col.2:20; who die to sin, Rom.6:3-11). Nevertheless, Paul shows that our death with Christ to sin leads to new life, not just in some future heaven but right here, right now on earth. Despite everything negative, we can be part of the procession of life with: honor, good report, true, well-known, living, not yet dead, rejoicing, making others rich, and possessing all things.
How can we be a part of Christ’s procession, His way of life? St. Paul discusses this as well in today’s Epistle. He says we must exercise patience, vigilance, prayer, knowledge, longsuffering, kindness, and sincere love; with God’s Holy Spirit, with the word of truth, with the power of God, and with the armor of righteousness (vv.3-7). The Small Entrance with the Gospel book is the center piece of the Liturgy of the Word that culminates with the Gospel and Epistle readings and the homily. The Great Entrance with the Gifts is the beginning of the Liturgy of the Eucharist which leads us to the reception of the Food for eternal life—the Body and Blood of Christ. Both are encounter with Christ, both are equally important (so don’t come late and miss the first part), and both are accomplished by the power and inspiration of God’s Holy Spirit. Both are processions of life.
In conclusion, Fr. Anthony shares a true story that illustrates the difference between the procession of life and the procession of death. When George H. Bush was vice-president to Ronald Reagan, he attended the funeral of Soviet premier Leonid Brezhnez. Bush said, “Things were run with military precision; a coldness and hollowness prevaded the ceremony—marching soldiers, steel helmets, Marxist rhetoric, but no prayers, no comforting hymns, no mention of God. I happened to be in just the right spot to see (the widow) Mrs. Brezhnev. She walked up, took one last look at her husband and there—in the cold, gray center of that totalitarian state, she traced the sign of the Cross over her husband’s chest. I was stunned. In that simple act, God had broken through the core of the Communist system.”
Let us go forth today and for every day of the rest of our earthly life, committing ourselves and one another to the procession of life! Amen!