6 June Anno Domini 2010
1 Kings 17:17–24 & Luke 7:11–17
Jesus who is risen from the dead is also the One who raises the dead. And in this particular case, He raises a widow’s son. We don’t know how that boy died. Was it an accident, an illness, natural causes or something unexpected? When the young die, it always draws the attention from the community. There’s always a crowd for the funeral of the young, just as there was on that day in the little hamlet of Nain.
Jesus and His disciples were passing by just as the funeral procession was heading for the gravesite. The grief was thick. This was the only son of a widow. First she had buried her husband, and now she had to bury her only son. Who would care for her? Who would provide for her? How would she manage the rest of her life?
Death, that mortal enemy of our humanity, had robbed her twice, first of a husband and now of her only son. Can you imagine her pain, the tears of grief, the feeling of helplessness, of anger, of despair, those endless nights of weeping that wouldn’t end with the burial? The wages of sin is death; it’s the price of Adam’s sin and our own. That young man was a sinner, born with the congenital disease of Adam in his own flesh and bones. Whatever it was that killed him, the cause of his death was sin and the Law that kills sinners. “The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the Law” (1 Corinthians 15:56).
That’s often overlooked at funerals. We hesitant to even talk about sin in the midst of all that grief over the death of a loved one. We know they weren’t perfect, and we know, at least in our heads, that they were sinners, but we really don’t want to hear about it at a funeral. We’d rather hear about all the good things they did. “Celebrate the life” as funeral homes love to put it. There’s nothing wrong with celebrating a life, as God is the Author and Perfecter of life. God hates death as much as we do, even more than we do. In celebrating life, though, we need to recognize the reality of death, which comes to every child of Adam simply for being a son or daughter of Adam. We are born to die, and it’s that original sin that kills us. Denial is damning and destructive.
Jesus looked attentively, compassionately at the grieving mother. He picks her out of the crowd of mourners. He knows who she is. On the cross, He would single out His own dear mother and provide a son for her in His death. Here, His compassionate heart reaches out to her as only Jesus can, and He speaks the consoling and compassionate Word that only the Word Incarnate can speak with full meaning, “Do not weep.”
In our shallow attempts of comforting don’t we also say, “Don’t cry, don’t be sad and please don’t weep.” Those well-intentioned words do little, if anything to stem the flood of tears. But with Jesus, it’s different. His words are powerful and creative, they come with divine action. His words bring benefits and results. He goes to the open coffin and touches it. He is calm and certain, staring death straight in the face. Jesus speaks again. “Young man, I say to you, rise up.” Didn’t Jesus know His name? Of course He did! He’s the Lord. But instead, like Jarius’ daughter, He simply calls him “young man,” as though to say, “You’re not the only one I’m going to raise from the dead. I’m going to raise a lot of young men and old men, and little girls and grown women, and a whole world of dead,” including you and me.
Arise, rise up! The resurrection word. Get up, Rise Up. For Jesus, it’s as simple as waking someone up from being asleep. He tells the dead to get up, and they do it. All it takes is a Word from the Lord of life who came to defeat Death itself by His dying. One little word! Rise!
Notice the difference with Elijah. When Elijah raised the widow’s son Zarephath, he did it by prayer. He stretched himself out over the boy, literally covering him with his own body, and he cried out to the Lord three times, “O Yahweh, my God, let this child’s life come into him again.” And the Lord heard Elijah’s prayer. But Jesus is more than a prophet; He’s the eternal Son, God in the Flesh. He doesn’t need to ask God to intercede, He commands. He doesn’t plead with Yahweh, He orders dead people around, and they hear Him and His Word does what He says. The young man sat up in his own coffin, and he began to speak. Dead men don’t sit up, and they don’t speak.
That’s the power of the Word. That Word who brings life into your spiritually dead body. That Word who baptized you and forgave you all of your sins. That Word who feeds you the Bread of Life and the Cup of Immortality, the very Body and Blood of Christ who took our humanity to death and the grave and raised it up to the right hand of the Father in eternal glory. Do you remember the promise of Jesus in the Capernaum synagogue? In John’s Gospel chapter 6 He says:
“And this is the will of Him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all that He has given me, but raise them up at the Last Day. For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in Him shall have eternal life and I will raise him up at the Last Day… Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the Last Day.” (John 6:39,40,54)
Those promises are yours in Baptism, held in trust for you, restated every time you eat and drink the Body and Blood of the One who destroyed death by dying. The ancient fathers called the Lord’s Supper the “medicine of immortality”. It’s the antidote to death itself. The sting of death is sin; its venom is the Law. But thanks be to Jesus, who by His perfect life under the Law became the anti-venom of sin, and by His perfect death under the Law destroyed the power of death once and for all.
You might say, Pastor that’s nice. I’m happy for that widow of Zarephath who got her son back, and for that widow at Nain who got your boy back from the dead. They must have been overjoyed. They went out to bury their sons only to get them back alive. Wonderful for them, but what about for me? What about the loved ones I’ve had to bury? What about those I loved; those that death has robbed from me? What about all the other widows and single mothers of Scripture; surely there were more grieving mothers and father and husbands and wives than just these two. When we go to the cemetery, to the graves of our loved own ones who have fallen asleep in Jesus, “What about them”? What about us, when the doctors say, “I’m sorry, but there’s nothing more we can do for you.” Or, “the cancer has returned and there is no cure.” What about those sons and daughters who go off to war and never return, those countless crosses and grave markers under which are buried someone’s son or someone’s daughter.
This is where we need to understand and receive the miracle for what it is - a sign for our faith, and a foretaste of the feast to come on that Last Day, on our Resurrection Day when the Lord Jesus appears in all His glory and raises up the dead, and gives eternal life to all His believers. What He did for the young man on the way to his burial, He will do for you. Raise you up. Touch your coffin and say, “Young man, young woman rise up.” And there won’t be a single corpse that doesn’t rise on the day He speaks the word of resurrection. What He did for that grieving mother going out of the city with her neighbors to bury her only son, He will do for you in your grief and sorrow. “Weeping remains only for a night, but rejoicing comes in the morning” (Ps 30:4).The day of your resurrection.
Resurrection means reunion, life with God, life in Christ, life in communion with one another. The apostle Paul considered this when he wrote the Christians in the congregation at Thessalonica. They had some strange notion that those who died before Jesus appeared were lost and would never be seen or heard from again. Paul writes this, by the Holy Spirit who guides into all truth:
1 Thessalonians 4:13 But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep. For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. Therefore encourage one another with these words.
This isn’t just wishful thinking on Paul’s part, some sweet sentimental twaddle scratched on a sympathy card to make us “feel better.” This is the word of the Lord Himself, a promise of the One who is the Resurrection and the Life. This is rock solid and certain, just as Jesus is risen from the dead and lives and reigns for all eternity. We shall also rise to be with the Lord. Raised and reunited in the Lord, as surely as He has conquered sin, death and the devil and has risen from the dead, you shall Rise-Up in Jesus. You have His (T) Word on it. A creative Word which does what it says. So Rise – Up in Jesus and for Jesus sake.
In Jesus name, Amen and amen!
The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. AMEN