Trinity Lutheran Church, Cumberland, MD
September 23rd, 2012
Grace, mercy and peace.... Introductions, etc...
At Nain, life crashes into death, and life wins.
Jesus was traveling with a crowd, who had surely seen his miracles and perhaps were impressed with his teaching. There was something special about this man from Nazareth. He was more than the usual itinerant preacher. There must have been quite the buzz, as the messianic expectations charged the air around him. Could he be the one we've been waiting for?
Then, there is, coming from the other direction, a rather different crowd. A group of mourners. A funeral procession. And while no funeral is a joyous occasion, here the sadness was especially bitter. For the man who died left his mother, a widow, behind. On top of the grief and shock of losing her son, now she had no one to take care of her. No husband, and now, no son.
And not only do these two groups meet outside the city, but the Lord of Life here meets the dead man, and calls him to life. Jesus actually touches the funeral bier, which would have made a good Jew ritually unclean. But Jesus makes the unclean clean, and Jesus makes the dead alive. Miraculously, he raises the young man from death, who sits up and begins talking (I wonder what he was saying). And Jesus gives him back to his mother. He restores what was lost. He sets all things right.
This is more than just a miracle, however. The miracles of Jesus are always teaching moments. They are calling cards that point to who he is. In this case, the people who saw the miracle began to interpret its meaning – that Jesus is a prophet, and that God has visited his people. But did they know and hear and believe the prophetic message he spoke? And did they know just how God had visited them, that this Jesus was and is God of God in the flesh of man? And did they know what his visitation would mean?
We must also read and interpret the miracles of Jesus with the rest of the New Testament in mind. We know where this story is going, and how it ends. The same Jesus who raised the little girl, the young man, and his friend Lazarus would also himself rise from the dead. We must read this miracle through the cross and empty tomb of Christ, which were soon to come.
There, Jesus, another widow's son, would be condemned to death. Then he would go with a different crowd to the outskirts of a different city – Jerusalem, accompanied by others who would weep and mourn. But even then, Jesus redirects the weeping and mourning for those who would not receive him, would not believe in him, and would ultimately be destroyed. The real power of death, the sting of death is sin... and he had come to take that sting away.
But nevertheless, Jesus meets death, in his own body, in the most personal way. At the cross, he not only touches death, but he swallows it up forever, swallows it up in victory.
One day, perhaps sooner than you think, you may be the one on the funeral bier, taking up space in the casket. Your body will rest quiet, lifeless, and mourners will gather. Death comes for all of us who sin, and we all sin. It's a reality we often put out of our minds, but sometimes it crashes into our reality with a shock and awe that leaves us speechless.
But Jesus speaks to that. He first met you, and spoke to you, when you were dead in your sins. He met you, not outside the city, but a the font of baptism. When the pastor spoke those words, and baptized you into the name of God, it's as if Jesus said to you, “arise”. There your living death of sin became the new life, the eternal life, of a child of God.
St. Paul says, “We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.” (Romans 6:4).
And each day as we return to those waters of repentance and faith, life and death crash into each other again, and life wins. Jesus renews and forgives you, restores and revives you to live for him.
And just as Jesus touched death on the outskirts of Nain, so does he come, bodily, to touch you this day. He comes in bread and wine, with his body and blood, to touch your lips and bring you forgiveness and life.
One day, at the resurrection of the dead, Jesus will raise all those who rest in him. At the trumpet call of God, the dead in Christ will rise, in our bodies, glorified, in a resurrection like his. Then will be the ultimate fulfillment of the new life he brings. Then death will be forever cast away, along with all tears of mourning, sadness, and pain.
This is the only hope for all who walk in death. Jesus is the only one who can bring life from death. When I go to Singapore, well, I am not Jesus. But I will bring the words of Christ, the message of Christ, his Gospel. And that word is life. When I preach that word here, just as your pastor preaches it here, Jesus is again meeting sin and death with forgiveness and life, and in him, life wins. For in Christ, a prophet is truly among us. In Christ, God has visited you. In Christ, life touches death, and death is no more.