04 September 2008

Homily for Trinity 16

[1 Kings 17:17-24 / Ephesians 3:13-21 / Luke 7:11-17]

Bishop Laache, the famous Norwegian Lutheran bishop, hit the nail on the head when he wrote: “Here on this earth we carry one another to the grave; it is one continuous funeral that no one can stop…The whole earth is a graveyard, and the whole race of humanity a funeral procession. We don’t simply follow the dead when we walk behind the coffin; we carry death in ourselves and hasten to our own graves. These eyes, this tongue, these hands will decay, dry up, and turn to dust…”

How the widow of Nain tasted the bitter truth of those words! Death, that hideous monster, had already devoured her beloved husband, and now it had just eaten her one and only son. She knew as she trudged behind that coffin that death itself would always be the winner and that she was headed to that same darkness, that same grave.

Some of you have literally walked where she walked. Almost all of you have walked behind a coffin bearing someone you loved. And if you haven’t yet, you will. Truly we carry death in ourselves and we hasten to our own graves.

But that day something happened in Nain that shook the kingdom of death to its foundations. For one procession met another. A procession of Life (Jesus and His followers) met up with that sorry procession of death. And look at what happened.

First, Jesus sees her. And with the omniscience that is given him, one look told him the whole story. He knows that she has seen death devour her husband and now her heart is broken as she goes to bury her only son. But He doesn’t just know all this about her; knowing, His heart is touched with pity, with compassion.

He was sent into this world by His Father because His Father loves us and His heart of love was breaking at what we were going through. He never intended, never wanted, any human being to know the unbearable pain of grief. Even though WE were the ones who brought death into the world through our disobedience, He came to deal with it, to destroy it for us. And so His heart is moved by pity and he speaks to her: “Woman, do not weep.”

What He says to her, he says to every grieving heart. “Do not weep.” How could she not weep? How can we not weep? Death is a fearsome foe and we have no strength whatsoever to fight it off. And once one is swallowed down by death, we are left alone and frightened, knowing that we will become death’s prey all too soon and at a time we may not even expect. And yet Jesus dares to say: “Do not weep.”

And then He shows how He dares to say this to us. He goes up to the coffin, grabs hold of it, arrests its movement to the grave, and stops Death dead in its tracks. Then He does the astonishing. He speaks. He speaks and His voice reaches even into the gaping pit of death. He speaks and says: “Young man, I say to you, arise.”

Notice the contrast with Elijah from our first reading. Great man of God that he is, Elisha does not have life in himself to give away. He is just another poor sinner. But he knows that he serves the God of life and so he prays and begs God, and the God of life answers his prayer. But Jesus speaks no prayer. LIFE is His to give. He shows that now for all to see.

“Young man, I say to you, arise” The young man sat up, and I’m sure the bearers dropped the coffin in their shock, but Jesus was there to take his hand and give him back to his mother. Unspoken are the words, “See, I told you not to weep.”

Do you remember when Jesus was comforting His friend Martha, how she said: “I know that my brother will rise at the last day”? And Jesus told her: “I AM the Resurrection and the Life.” That’s WHO He is. He is the Defeat of death. He is the Raiser of the Dead. He is the One who is so bursting with LIFE that His voice alone has the power to waken the dead and call them from their tombs. Did He not say it of Himself: “Truly, truly I say to you, an hour is coming and now is, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live”? (John 5:25)

Death is not stronger than His voice. Death is forced to give up its prey when Jesus commands. And that was only a brief skirmish; the real battle was still ahead. For Jesus’ war with Death would not be over until He himself had tasted it for every man, and by enduring it, would destroy its power forever. Transforming it, making it something it never was before - now an entrance into life!

Look at what happened just as a result of this little skirmish. Jesus took that funeral procession and brought it to an end. Instead of ending where every funeral ends, with tears of sadness, it ended with tears of joy and with worship. People glorifying God and telling each other that a great prophet has arisen and that God has visited His people. The procession of life grew that day, as those who had witnessed the miracle joined in following the Man in Whom is LIFE.

Think of what that means for death! Are you afraid of your bed? Does it make you tremble to think of lying down in it? No more so should you be afraid of death, you who trust in the Redeemer and have been baptized into Him and into whom has been fed the immortal body and blood of the Son of God! He will rouse you from that sleep on the last Day and you will open your eyes to see your Redeemer face to face, just like that young man did when Jesus took him by the hand and gave him to his mother. What’s to fear then, about death?

And because this is so, how can we not be glorifying and praising God? How can we not be worshipping and singing and telling one and all that in Jesus we have met the One who alone stops the sad funeral procession of human existence and changes it into a procession of life – life with Him now, and life with Him when our soul departs to heaven and our body sleeps in the earth, and life with Him forever when He wakens us body and soul, and raises us to the Day without evening in the Kingdom of His Father. Amen.

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