The 16th Sunday after Trinity–19 September 2021
11 Soon afterward [Jesus] went to a town called Nain, and his disciples and a great crowd went with him. 12 As he drew near to the gate of the town, behold, a man who had died was being carried out, the only son of his mother, and she was a widow, and a considerable crowd from the town was with her. 13 And when the Lord saw her, he had compassion on her and said to her, “Do not weep.” 14 Then he came up and touched the bier, and the bearers stood still. And he said, “Young man, I say to you, arise.” 15 And the dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother. 16 Fear seized them all, and they glorified God, saying, “A great prophet has arisen among us!” and “God has visited his people!” 17 And this report about him spread through the whole of Judea and all the surrounding
The procession of death and the procession of life!
A mother and a considerable crowd are setting out to travel down the road leading out of town to the cemetery to bury her son. Afterwards, there will be a reception or a receiving line in which the mourners arrange themselves in rows in order to offer condolences to the grieving woman. But her future is bleak. Her husband and now her only son are dead, and she is all alone, with no provision for the future. What words can be spoken, what actions can be shown that will make any difference at all? The reception following that graveside committal is destined to be especially sad.
But now, appearing unexpectedly and blocking the funeral procession is Jesus, with His disciples and a great crowd following Him. The procession of death is stopped in its tracks by the procession of life. The Lord of life is present, and so there will be no graveside committal. The whole funeral is canceled as the dead man is brought back to life, and then everyone turns back into town to enjoy a very different kind of reception.
Death overturned by Life results in joy, holy fear, and quiet faith!
Many times in the history of our dear congregation, we have processed down Niven Road for a graveside committal at Lakeshore Cemetery. Imagine traveling in a funeral procession down Niven Road, only to be stopped by Jesus raising up from the dead our deceased loved one. The procession then cuts through Garrison Village and returns to Trinity for a very different kind of reception.
This is now a reception of overflowing joy, even greater joy than at a wedding. The standard words of consolation, such as “I’m so sorry for your loss”, are completely out-of-place. There are still tears shed, perhaps more than usual, but they are tears of utter joy and astonishment. And with the joy is a holy fear, as everyone fixes their eyes not only on the deceased brought back to life but also on Jesus, wondering “who is this Man, that even the dead are raised at His command?” But this holy fear does not prevent but rather encourages, even compels, a great celebration. Someone goes out and then returns with a case of fine wine. Someone else goes home and returns with music CDs to play from his car stereo, just like how Klaus Reimers once played polka music loud from his car when we had a church picnic out back. And perhaps a dance breaks out. And there is laughter, ringing laughter that can be heard down the street. And then, there is quiet—a quiet glorifying of God, who has done great deeds and who keeps His promises.
The true nature of our Lord’s victory!
Now, of course, people still die. Even the widow’s son raised by Jesus ended up dying a second time. And even though you and I are baptized children of God, we will die. Someday, the funeral procession will be for us. And there will be no stopping of the procession for a resurrection on the way to the cemetery.
There always have been mockers and scoffers who have shook their fingers at Christians, shouting “Aha! You Christian claim Jesus as your victorious Saviour. But where’s the victory? There’s still evil in the world! People still die!” But these unbelievers overlook the fact that the Lord is delaying the full revealing of His victory because He is patient…, not wishing that any…perish, but that all should reach repentance (2 Peter 3:9). Our Lord’s patience will finally be withdrawn on the Last Day, when He says to unrepentant sinners: Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels (Matthew 25:41). Until then, behold, now is the day of salvation (2 Corinthians 6:2). Now is the time for sinners to repent and to trust in Jesus, the Lord of Life.
Right now, the Lord is being patient even with you and with me, for we too need to repent. Like the mockers and the scoffers, we too question “where’s the victory?” We think that Jesus should stop the sad procession of our lives and raise us up from all our troubles and sorrows, so that we can enjoy life without a care in the world. Our lives do not appear victorious—far from it—and so we are tempted to question our Lord’s victory over sin, death, and the devil.
That is why our Lord Jesus raises up the widow’s son from Nain. He wants us to be clear about the true nature of His victory. He wants us to know that our troubles, sorrows, and even our death cannot overturn the victory He has won for us in His death and resurrection.
Jesus is the Lord of compassion!
The raising of the widow’s son does not mean that now Jesus will interrupt all funeral processions with a resurrection. For our Lord, in His wisdom, has decreed that until the Last Day, even His children will experience trials and tribulations and eventually die.
The raising of the widow’s son is a sign, a sign that tells us two things about the lordship of Jesus our Saviour.
First, Jesus is the Lord of compassion. In compassion, Jesus tells the widow not to weep and immediately He gives her a reason to stop her crying. And when Jesus raises the dead son, He gives the young man back to his mother. Mother and son united. What compassion! What tenderness! This miracle is a sign that even as we suffer, we should persist in trusting in the Lord’s mercy and compassion. As St. James writes: Behold, we consider those blessed who remained steadfast. You have heard of the steadfastness of Job, and you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful (James 5:11).
We are to be like Job, who even as he suffered continued trusting in God. But when problems pile up in our lives, we often doubt that Jesus truly is the Lord of compassion. And so we travel through each day confused and afraid.
Years ago, when I was still living in California, I was driving one night in the mountains just east of San Diego. And suddenly I hit a patch of fog, fog so thick that I could not see the road. I was terrified. I decided to do the thing they say you should never do in the fog. I pulled off to the side of the road to wait for the fog to dissipate. I was stuck there quite some time. But the fog never lifted, and all the while I could hear other cars passing me. I became so afraid that one of those cars would veer off the road and hit my parked car that I decided to venture forth and continue my drive. Slowly, I drove back onto the road and then I crept along, thinking that I would be stuck inching along like this for an hour. But it turned out that I was in a valley. The fog was thick and heavy in that mountain valley, but in just a minute or two I reached higher ground and suddenly it was clear sailing the rest of the way. What a joy it was to shift up into high gear!
When you doubt whether Jesus is the Lord of compassion, it’s like being stuck in that valley of fog. You become terrified, even paralyzed by your problems. And even worse, you think God has abandoned you, that God is not full of compassion and mercy. Some people seem to be permanently stuck in that valley of despair. And you and I have also spent more time that we would care to admit in that valley of fear and confusion. But our calling in Christ is to confess our paralyzing unbelief and then trust that God truly loves and cares for us and that His heart beats with compassion and mercy for us at all times. The Lord calls us to repent of our fears and unbelief. And in Holy Absolution, the Lord compassions us, the Lord mercies us, so that with exuberant joy we proclaim: O give thanks unto the Lord, for He is good, and His mercy endures forever!
Jesus is the Lord of life!
The raising of the widow’s son is a sign that tells us two things about the lordship of Jesus our Saviour. First, that Jesus is the Lord of compassion. And second, that Jesus is the Lord of Life.
As Jesus touched the coffin of the young man from Nain, so too at the close of a Lutheran funeral service, the pastor touches the coffin and gives this blessing: Lord, now You let Your servant go in peace; Your word has been fulfilled. My own eyes have seen the salvation which You have prepared in the sight of every people: a light to reveal You to the nations and the glory of Your people Israel. With this blessing, we are confessing that Jesus is the Lord of Life, and that therefore we do not fear death as unbelievers do. We know that death in itself is not good, but we also know that Jesus will always turn death into a victory for us.
Jesus touched your casket to save you from death for life!
On the day of our bodily death, our souls will be received into the blessedness of heaven. And on the Last Day, our bodies themselves will be raised from the dead to live in Christ’s glory. Jesus said of us, I have come that they may have life, and have it abundantly. Because I live, you will live also. Whoever hears my Word and believes Him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life (John 10:10; 14:19; 5:24). No longer are we dead in our trespasses and sins. God has made us alive in Christ and has forgiven us all our sins.
That day at Nain, Jesus touched the coffin, and those carrying the dead man stood still. Jesus stopped the procession of death dead in its tracks. In touching the coffin, it is as though Jesus received unto Himself this man’s death and then also transferred to the young man our Lord’s own life in exchange, to make the young man clean and whole and to raise him back to life. This miracle looks forward to Good Friday, when the only-begotten Son of the Father became a dead man, to save this young man and you and me as well.
On the cross Jesus touched your casket; He absorbed your death into His own body to save you from death. Yes, Jesus allowed death to pass from you to Him so that you would be restored to life, cleansed and made whole. The Saviour has shared in our griefs and sorrows, the Saviour has shared in our death. And thus, He has redeemed us from death and He gives us now to share in His bodily resurrection to life everlasting. Thanks be to God! Amen.