“I am He who comforts you,” says the Lord in today’s Old Testament reading. Is there a better understanding of Him than that? He is the Lord whose delight is not to terrorize, but to console, to whisper tenderly to His afflicted: “I am the Lord your God…you are my people.”
We need that consolation, but especially when the domain of darkness seems about to engulf us, when we are afraid and panic. Nothing brings that fear to life in us like confronting ongoing suffering in our own lives or the death of those we love. In today’s Gospel Jesus shows Himself the God who comforts in both situations.
The ruler’s little girl has died. He is terrified and there is only one place he can turn, for there are rumors throughout the land of the miraculous powers at work in this prophet from Nazareth. He bows in the dust before Jesus and confesses: “come lay Your hand on her and she will live.” And off Jesus goes with him. Not a word of rebuke like we heard a few weeks ago when the Nobleman’s son lay dying, and Jesus sent him off with only a promise. This time He goes along.
And there is an important lesson: the Lord doesn’t deal with us all the same. He who is our Great Physician, He knows what is best for the final healing of our fearful hearts. To one He gives no more than a promise and sends him on his way; to another He Himself comes in great compassion. He deals with you as the person you are and not as some impersonal somebody. And that’s a comfort all by itself.
But before they could go very far, a chronic sufferer, a woman suffering a discharge of blood for twelve years, sneaks up in the crowd and touches his clothes. She believed in His great mercy and in His great power and so she told herself that she had only to touch the hem of his garment and she would be made well.
Though the crowd is around Him, this touch was different. He stops and turns and looks right at her. “Take heart, daughter. I am the Lord who comforts you. Your faith has made you well” and He’d no sooner said it, than her body was whole again.
Many bump up against the Lord in His holy Meal, they touch His body and blood in the same way that the crowds did, and they walk away unchanged by it. But when you come to Him in faith as this woman did, when you lay Your hand on His garment, on the bread that is His body and the wine that is His blood, and receive them trusting in Him, He gives you the same gift: salvation, being made whole and well. The life that is in Him then flows out into you. A life that is rich in comfort, a comfort that is more enduring than all the pain and suffering you will have to undergo in this life. A comfort that sets your heart at peace – for it is the comfort of sins forgiven, death destroyed, eternal life bestowed.
And when they arrive at the ruler’s house and the flutes and the crowds are making a commotion, bewailing the child, Jesus speaks what is perhaps His greatest word of comfort of all: “Go away, for the girl is not dead but sleeping.”
They laugh him to scorn. He’s obviously a mad man. The child is dead. But here you must learn to see death the right way round. For to us it IS death, it cuts a person off from the living. But that is not how death is to God. To Him, it is no more than a little sleep. And Jesus shows this by going and reaching out and literally pulling that girl out from death’s cruel jaws and handing her back to her parents. The place, of course, goes ballistic. Who ever heard of such a thing? A man to whom death itself is but a little sleep?
And did He not thereby foreshadow what would happen? The woman with the flow of blood, 12 years long, did it not evoke Israel of the 12 tribes with the countless streams of blood from the sacrifices offered day in and day out, sacrifices that could never finally do the job. They could only point toward another sacrifice that would do it. And so Jesus, like the little girl, after His suffering upon Calvary for your sins, went into death itself, slept for a little while – the three days – until He was awakened come Easter morn. Alive then and never to die again, He is very clear that He is only the first-fruits, the beginning of the harvest of human being. That what happened to Him shall happen to all. The dead who sleep will be raised to live forever.
When Paul prays that the Colossians may be filled with the knowledge of God’s will in all spiritual understanding and insight, he is pleading that God would open our minds and hearts to trust in His chosen path and plan for us. That after suffering and dying, our bodies shall lie in the grave for a while, until the glorious moment of our Lord’s Appearing. Then we shall be raised. If we remember this, every trial, every tribulation and hardship along the way, well, they simply lose all power to crush us. We cannot be crushed by such things when we have an everlasting hope, when we have been qualified to share in the inheritance of the saints in light, since He has delivered us in Baptism [as we saw this morning with Jamie Rose] from the domain of darkness and transferred us into the Kingdom of His beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of our sins.
Think of it, people loved by God, what can crush you when you hold to this anchor? What can possibly destroy you? Into you has gone a life that has already defeated death –death will not hold you. Into you has gone a forgiveness that has already wiped out the sins of the world – sin cannot keep you captive. Do not be afraid. It is the Lord who comforts you. And when that glorious moment arrives when your Lord is unveiled in His glory and raises the dead, then shall come to pass the prophesy we heard from Isaiah: “And the ransomed of the Lord shall return and come to Zion with singing; everlasting joy shall be upon their heads; and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.” Any wonder the early Church never stopped praying then: Maranatha! Our Lord, come! Amen.