June 10th , 2007
Second Sunday after Pentecost
“Life Touches Death”
When you put two things next to each other for comparison, it’s called juxtaposition. Today we have some interesting juxtapositions in our readings. For one, we have the Old Testament reading and the Gospel reading.
In the Old Testament reading, Elijah performs a miracle in which the son of a certain widow is raised from the dead. In the Gospel reading Jesus comes to the town of Nain, and also raises the son of a widow. But the stories are different too. Elijah had to pray to God for his miracle, whereas Jesus simply commanded the young man to arise. Elijah’s prayer was uttered three times, whereas Jesus’ command only once. On the other hand, Elijah’s miracle led the widow to recognize him as a man of God and speaker of the truth. Jesus’ observers were amazed too. But did they see him for who he truly was?
Another juxtaposition today is the two crowds in the Gospel reading. One crowd followed Jesus – a crowd of disciples. They were no doubt caught up in the excitement and wonder of his many miraculous signs and wonders. And his teaching wasn’t bad either. But then there was the other crowd – a funeral procession – a gathering of mourners. Certainly not excited but instead subdued as they made their solemn departure from the town toward the grave site. These two crowds meet. And after the miracle, they become one crowd of amazed and terrified worshippers, glorifying God.
Perhaps a final juxtaposition worth mentioning, and one we will explore further today, is that of life and death. Here comes Jesus – the Lord of Life, the Living Bread from Heaven. Healer of many. Everything about Jesus is life. And there on the funeral bier (that is, the frame carrying the casket) was a young man who was dead, and on his way to the grave.
Life and death come to collision outside the town of Nain. Life in the person of Christ and death which had taken hold of a young man. But the Life of Christ is more powerful than death. The life of Christ cannot be stopped by death. And when the life of Christ touches death, death itself is destroyed. No matter how hopeless it seems.
Take note of several details here. First, the deceased was the only son of a widow. Without the ability to earn her own living, and without an institutional safety net like Social Security, widows in Jesus’ day were among the most vulnerable of society. Without a husband, they would rely on adult sons to care for them. And now, with no one left, this widow faced a life of begging and relying on the kindness of strangers. Her prospects were grim. Much more than the emotional heartache of losing a child, this woman now also had to fear for her own life – and how she would make it from day to day.
Also, the deceased was a young man. He was not old. While death is never easy, most of us can handle better the death of an elderly person. A bitter departure that is made somewhat sweet by the relieving of suffering and the release from a body which has worn down and worn out.
However death is much harder to take when the victim is young. We see the potential of their life snuffed out “too soon”, and it seems to multiply the heartache. You see a teenager or perhaps even a child’s funeral – and the crowds swell. Death is never fun, but it is tragic when the victim is younger.
But it is no less “fair”. In fact, we all deserve death from the moment of our conception. We are conceived sinful, born sinful, grow up sinful and die sinful. Human beings justly deserve the wages of that sin, which is death. While our sense of fair play is offended when a young person dies, God’s sense of justice is not. This widow’s son at Nain was a sinner like us all. And he deserved the temporal punishment of death for those sins, whether the mourners knew it or not. How easily we can identify with this mother and son. For apart from Jesus we have no hope. Apart from Jesus, we are as good as dead, no matter our age or station in life. Sinners all, all deserving death.
None of that matters to Jesus. He doesn’t make the dead man earn his life back. He doesn’t ask to be repaid for the sins that caused this death. Jesus comes to that funeral procession and to that casket and to that corpse with one intention – and that is to give. To give life. To restore what was lost. To give breath to the man, and hope to the mother. So too, with us.
Jesus touches the casket, which would have made him ceremonially unclean. Any contact with death or the dead would make an observant Jew unclean for a time. But Jesus makes the unclean clean, just as he makes death into life. So too, with us.
In fact Jesus’ entire mission here on earth was one of life and death. His purpose was to live the life we couldn’t live. An earthly life of perfect human obedience. And then to take that life and give it over to death on a cross. A perfect sacrifice for sin. The only one who didn’t deserve to die, voluntarily dying for all who do. So he dies, too, for us.
And I don’t have to tell you what happens when Jesus touches death – he destroys it. Three days rest in the tomb brought him to the glorious resurrection of Easter. There the final enemy was proven no match for the Lord of Life. When death and life collide, one must give way. And with Jesus Christ, life always wins.
That could be our body they are carrying out to the grave, and one day, it will be. Unless Christ returns first, each of us will one day face death. It may seem far off to you today – especially if you yourself are younger - with the concerns of daily living distracting you. But remember this man was young too. Then one day death came and slapped him in the face. But like the young man who was raised to life by the Lord of Life, so shall we be.
Or perhaps you are older and ailing and death doesn’t seem so far off anymore. Perhaps you dread the day – with a fear of what lies beyond. Perhaps your aches and pains make you dread it not so much. Hopefully you know well the promises of Christ for his people, that believing in Christ, even though we die, yet shall we live!
Or perhaps you are like the mother who lost her son. Maybe you have lost a child, or a spouse, or a parent. And maybe you are still mourning that loss. So here comes Jesus today, with his life, to touch you, and bring you hope. Trust in his love and his promises. And know that even death holds no fear for us.
Yes the juxtaposition of life and death in our Gospel reading show us what Jesus is all about. Our Lord meets death and he overcomes it at Nain, for the widow’s son, and even more so at the cross of Calvary and the vacant garden tomb. Jesus touches death, and destroys it, for you and for me too. So we can rest secure in life and even in the face of death, trusting always in the Lord of Life. Amen.