SERMON FOR THE 16TH SUNDAY AFTER TRINITY, 9-16-2018
LUTHER MEMORIAL CHAPEL, SHOREWOOD, WI
Rev. Michael Larson
If you’ve ever visited or talked with your life insurance agent, they rarely really talk about death. They will say things like, “well if something unforeseen should happen,” or, “let’s think about being prepared if something should happen to you.” But when it comes to death there are no maybes. It’s not some possibility or unforeseen event. When it comes to death we should not say “if” but simply “when.” Death isn’t a possibility. It’s a certainty. And it comes to all of us. The old saying is true that when it comes to this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.
But for the woman this morning in our Gospel text, she bears an even heavier weight. Her son has died. And not just any son – but her only son – her only child. And what’s more. She is a widow. Not only had she lost her husband, but now the one treasure she had left in the whole world was unfairly taken from her. The Scriptures say that a huge crowd was with her – but in this moment she was all alone – no one and nothing could console her. And so she did what any mother would do. She wept. And there are no tears as bitter as those that come from the loss of a child. I’ve been with enough mothers and widows to know that none of them would even hesitate to exchange their own lives for that of their children. This woman would have gladly given her life in exchange for her son. But death marches on. And that funeral procession moved on – like a freight train – with no one to stop it – or so it would seem.
Yet this funeral procession was not the only event in town. There was talk about a man named Jesus who was doing miracles, healing the sick and casting out demons. And after healing the centurion’s son – now Jesus is leading a processional of his own. His disciples all following him, in his train. His procession will go to Jerusalem – to be crucified – to die – but yet to rise from the grave to bring life and immortality to life.
But even now, Jesus sees this poor mother and he does not pass by. His heart is moved with compassion and pity. He tells her not to weep. He walks right up to the coffin, lays his hands upon it, and the pall bearers all stop in their tracks. The funeral procession comes to a halt and all become silent. And Jesus speaks. “Young man, I say to you, arise.” And the man who was once dead opens his eyes. He sits up. The cloth which covered him falls to the ground. He begins speaking and Jesus returns this man to his mother. Her tears of bitter weeping immediately turned to tears of sweetest joy as they embraced one another – and showered one another with kisses and hugs.
It is said in our Gospel this morning that fear seized them all. The big crowd, all those who witnessed this were filled with fear. And why should they not be afraid? A dead man stood up. How could you not tremble at the sight of it? How could your knees not buckle at the sight of God raising the dead. Jesus casts out demons – he raises the dead – he will return on the last day – lightning will crash – a trumpet will blast – and Jesus will descend from the heavens will armies of angels to separate the righteous from the unrighteous – to judge the living and the dead.
Do not marvel at this; for an hour is coming, in which all who are in the tombs will hear His voice, and will come forth; those who did the good deeds to a resurrection of life, those who committed the evil deeds to a resurrection of judgment.
Those who stubbornly spurn His love will be cast out into darkness where there will be a weeping and gnashing of teeth. Those who gladly await His coming will be received into his loving arms as he transforms our lowly bodies to be like his glorious body. Raised up and seated with Him in glory. Surrounding the Lamb of God with palm branches in their hands.
But of course, we’re not there yet. We’re down here. In a sort of funeral procession of our own. We’ve said goodbye to too many friends. Too many families have been separated. And our fears and troubles seem to actually grow with each passing year. As the seasons change, the days now becoming shorter, we are again reminded that life is delicate like a dry leaf. It dries up, becomes brittle, falls, and returns to the ground. We are no different.
But the same Jesus who saw this poor widow and cared for her by giving her back her son is the same Jesus who sees you. He doesn’t pass you by. He notices you. He cares. He sees your specific struggles – your sorrows, your misfortune, and your tears. And he wants to help. This same Jesus – who lives - places his hands on you, and speaks the same words to you. Young girl, young man, I say to you arise. He forgives your sins. He restores your life. For everything that afflicts you – He has an answer for all of it. You are loved. You shall not die but live.
There is another widow whose heart was pierced with sadness when her only Son died – whose body was wrapped up in a linen cloth and laid in a tomb. This widow’s name was Mary. But of course this widow’s Son did not stay dead either. He is the long-promised Messiah. His Father raised Him from the dead – and so today’s Gospel anticipates the death of Jesus and His glorious resurrection. By His death, He laid siege to death. By His three days rest in the tomb, He hallowed the graves of all who believe in Him. And by His resurrection from the dead, He brings life and immorality to light. “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?”
This morning we have another processional in our midst. We walk to the altar as we walk through death and into life. With those who have gone before us. We approach the new Jerusalem. We fall asleep but we will awake. But even now, today, Jesus is here. God is with us. He comes under bread and wine. Declares it to be His very body and blood. In which we have the promise of eternal salvation and life everlasting. That we shall behold God face to face and that every tear shall be wiped from our eyes. To be joined with all the company of heaven – along with a happy reunion with those we love who have fallen asleep but await the resurrection of all flesh.
It’s true that death is a certainty in life. But much more certain is that Jesus was raised from the dead. That’s why at every funeral the pastor puts his hand on the casket like Jesus did. And says the following words from Romans chapter six: “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 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. For if we have been united with Him in a death like His, we shall certainly be united with Him in a resurrection like His.
This is what all Christians hope for. Because it’s the answer to all our prayers. I believe in the resurrection of the body and the life of the world to come. In Jesus, death has been undone – and life has sprung up. And just as Jesus hands the son over into the hands of his mother, so it is that we Christians believe that everything we’ve lost in this life – will all be restored to us – when this valley of tears is lifted. And nothing is hidden from our sight anymore. In the name of Jesus. Amen.