Pentecost 3 – June 5, 2016
"Jesus Saves Widows, Dead Guys, and You"
If you've ever suffered loss... you probably know how well meaning people can say some of the least helpful things. Things that they intend to help you feel better. But things that might even make you feel worse.
Sometimes it's hard to know exactly what to say to someone grieving, and sometimes it's better just to say nothing at all. A warm embrace, or your mere presence can be of some comfort. Maybe.
But I think most of us would be hesitant to say to a woman who's just lost her only son, “Don't cry”. And someone who does say such a thing surely seems to know little about suffering and grief. Someone who says such a thing seems to have little compassion for what this poor woman is going through. Maybe someone who would say this is insensitive. Maybe he's just mad. Or maybe, just maybe, he's the Lord of Life and Death, and he can actually do something about the cause of all her tears.
Jesus, of course, knows just what he's doing, and what he's saying. He is the Savior of widows, of dead guys, and of you. Let's take each one in turn.
This poor widow. Grief upon grief was added to her. She had lost her dear husband who knows how long ago. And while that is hard today, it was far harder back then and there, when a woman had to rely entirely on the provision of a man. But at least she had a son to care for her. Until just now, when the young man also died, leaving his mother without family, and without worldly support. She might end up begging for her daily bread. She might not make it herself. When Scripture encourages Christians to care for the “widow and the orphan”, we are being directed to some of the neediest of the needy.
Not only did she feel the pain that any mother would feel at such a loss- but this was her only son – and now, she was really all alone.
Even in the crowd of mourners who accompanied her, she was singularly alone in her suffering.
And along with the pure sadness that death makes us feel, there are quite often notes of guilt associated with it. Things I should have said or done for this loved one, and now the chance has passed me by. Perhaps if I would have done something differently, it wouldn't have turned out this way, and he'd still be here, alive and well. Or even, survivor guilt, “why did it have to be him and not me!?”. And all of this is amplified the more with the death of a young person.
Take the widow in our Old Testament reading, when her son dies, she lashes out at Elijah, “You have come to me to bring my sin to remembrance”. Sin and death go together. So it was in the garden of paradise. So it is in the wilderness of today's fallen world.
So here comes Jesus, crashing into the scene, with no invitation and no plea from the poor woman or anyone else. Not like the centurion in the last chapter who pleaded for his servant. Not like so many others who come on behalf of their loved ones for Jesus' help and mercy. Jesus takes the initiative. He comes first, he breaks in to the conversation and stops the funeral procession cold.
And he says to her, “don't cry”. And in this outrageous little sentence is hidden a promise. Don't cry, because you will soon have joy. Don't cry, because your son will rise. Don't cry, because Jesus brings life to the dead.
This is not a power-of-positive-thinking encouragement. That if you tell yourself everything is ok that it somehow will be. It's not a mind-over-matter manipulation of your emotions. It's not a denial of reality. It's a deeper reality, revealed in this miraculous moment, and revealed more fully on Easter Sunday, and yet to be revealed in its fullness at the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come.
When Jesus raises her son, he gives her back more than just her son. He gives her hope.
And this hope is also for the young man. The man who isn't named. Cause of death unknown. Well, we know the root cause at least. It's the same disease that affects us all. A self-inflicted, self-perpetuated illness called sin. The law's diagnosis is clear, we are dead-men walking. In our sins, we are already dead, as dead and helpless as the young man in Nain, being carried to his grave. We can't decide to be alive.
But again, there's Jesus, who comes and touches death and speaks to the dead man, “arise”. And it is so. By the power of his word, he commands life to return, and the Lord of Life gets his way. No one asked for this, or decided on this but him, Jesus, the savior.
And then there's you. Are you a victim of suffering, like the widow? At times, to be sure. Maybe yours even seems worse than others. Maybe you are tempted to grieve without hope. Or are you like the young man, if you will admit it, on your way to the grave because of your sins – however hidden or blatant they may be? Like a condemned death-row inmate, guilty as sin, because of your sin, your own most grievous sin?
If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves. If we say we are alive, we are liars. If we say we are just fine, we're the lunatics. We are lost, helpless, and hopeless – and we deserve everything we get and worse – without Christ.
But Jesus Christ crashes into all that. For the widow, for the dead guy, and even for you. The only Son of the Father, comes to restore the widow's son and all sons and daughters of wrath. The one who suffered and died on Calvary is the man of sorrows, well acquainted with grief. As Mary, another widow, watched her son die under Roman orders, for crimes he didn't commit, the salvation of all was accomplished. He is the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. He is the one who speaks, “Father, forgive them” and “It is finished”. And he proves without doubt his lordship of life and death, when he leaves death in the dust, stone rolled away, and only the sins of the world left behind.
The one by whom all things were made, who knit you together in your mother's womb, makes all things new, and will raise you on the last day. The one whose voice called the widow's son to rise, has called you to arise already. In the call to faith, proclaimed in the Gospel, your sinful flesh dies, and you live. In the washing of rebirth, your Old Adam is drowned, and your New Creation bursts forth. In the gifts of his table, he brings forgiveness, life, and salvation. His word of promise assures it. And as he would say to the widow, “don't cry”, he would speak words of comfort to you. Your sins are forgiven. Your future is secure. He who lives and believes in me, even though he die, yet shall he live.
We long for that day, when from this vale of tears we depart. We pray for his coming, for the fulfillment of all his promises. We press on toward the eternal hope that is so clear in his word. Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again. And as we stand in our flesh and see him, with resurrected and glorified eyes, no more harm or pain or suffering or sin or death can assail. And God will wipe every tear from our eyes.
Yes, Jesus himself wept at the grave of his friend, Lazarus. And so he shows us that death is not to be laughed at. It is no friend, but a sad wage of sin. Yet for those who trust in Christ, the resurrection and the life, we see in death the gate to eternal life. And so Paul says we grieve, but not like other men who have no hope. We cry, but ultimately we rejoice. We suffer, but we know comfort. We face our old enemy with a peace that passes understanding.
For the Lord of Life crashes in to our grief. He speaks words of comfort, even to widows, even to dead men, even to you. Believe it, for Jesus' sake. Amen.