In our Gospel this morning, Jesus calls forth life from death. It’s the miracle of the raising of the widow’s son. I love this Gospel for a couple reasons. First, I like to think of this resurrection miracle as a little Easter right smack dab in the middle of Trinity season. Second, it’s also special to me because it was the wedding text when Kristina and I were married.
Maybe it’s not the first text you would pick for a wedding, but we were married on a Sunday morning at the Divine Service with the whole congregation. So the appointed readings and hymns of the day just were what they were.
But it was very nice for us because God and His Word – His miracles – the ministry of Jesus is always relevant. In every situation we find ourselves, whether it be a time of sorrow, or on one of the happiest days of our lives – such as a wedding. You see, the raising of the dead and the new life that springs from the Gospel, after all, have everything to do with marriage. They have everything to do with our daily lives, our friendships, our vocation, and all that we are as Christians joined to the death and resurrection of Him who laid down His life for us.
So what do we know about this poor widow at Nain who has lost her son? The Gospel says she’s surrounded by a huge crowd of people, but make no mistake about it, in this moment she’s all alone. They’re going off to bury her son, but they may as well be burying her. Because her husband had died too, and now the one treasure she had left in the whole world was being taken away from her: His lifeless body carried in a procession to be buried in a dark tomb.
In order to understanding the gravity of this woman’s sorrow, there are a few things to keep in mind here. There’s no Medicaid, folks! There’s no Medicare. No Social Security. The Law of Moses had prescribed that widows be taken care of, but make no mistake about it, it would be a hard lot for her. She would have no family and perhaps none to care for her in her old age. She’s mourning the death of her son to be sure, but she’s also no doubt mourning for herself, because all her hopes, her dreams, her future, as she sees it, are dead too!
Can you relate? Have you been there too? Have you too stared down into a hole in the ground and watched your loved one, lowered down and swallowed up in darkness? Have you wrestled with crushing sadness, despair, and hopelessness? Have you had to fight off the fear of a grim and dark future?
The widow in our first reading today from the Old Testament knew those fears well. She was suffering from famine and hunger, and now there she was gathering sticks for one last meal before she and her son would die. But through Elijah the Lord provided for her: A never-ending jar of flour and jug of oil to see them through. That was our Old Testament text from last week. But now today, we see that that son of the widow becomes ill. His breathing became labored, his eyes dimmed, till they closed in death. For that widow, how good were those promises of God now? She lamented her sins and cried out to God for help.
Elijah, God’s prophet, took up that son in his own arms. He laid him on his own bed, and stretched himself upon the child three times, imploring and praying to God: “O Lord my God, let this child’s life come into him again.” The Lord heard that prayer from Elijah, and the child’s life came back into him. His eyes fluttered open. He awoke. And that boy who was dead was now alive, and was placed back into the arms of his beaming mother.
It’s an amazing miracle. But I want you to observe what’s different about the miracle in our Gospel this morning. Because when Jesus draws near and sees this poor woman, her sorrow, her grief, there are a couple things that should really strike us. First off, he gets his hands right on the dead body, on the coffin, which is something that no one would dare to do. That touch would render someone ritually unclean. Second, note that Jesus doesn’t go off imploring and pleading with God, like Elijah did, to work a miracle. He didn’t have to. Because He who is Himself Life speaks words that are mightier than the grave: “Young man, I say to you, arise!” At the voice of the Lord God, his eyes too fluttered open, he too sat up, and fear seized all the people as they glorified God. That man who was dead sat up, began to speak, and the same Lord who placed that son on her mother’s breast when he was born did so again when they embraced and tears of sorrow became tears of joy.
What’s this got to do with us? When Adam sinned, we all died. Each and every one of us, men, women, children, babies, older folks, we’re all marching in one giant funeral procession to the grave. We didn’t need COVID to teach us any of that. St. Paul writes in Romans, chapter 5: “Just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, so death spread to all men because all sinned.”
You see, you can’t solve the problem of death until you deal first with the problem of sin. And that’s just what we see in our Gospel this morning. When Jesus gets His hands on the body, on that coffin, all the pallbearers stand still. They know what that means. Someone stronger than death has come. When He gets His hands on the coffin, He renders Himself unclean, and that’s the point. Because He’s taking into Himself our sin, our sicknesses, even our death. Jesus, by getting His hands on that body, already is committing Himself to the cross.
To suffer and die for the sins of the world. To be the Passover Lamb and so take away the sins of the world and death right along with it.
I want you to direct your eyes to another widow. The blessed Virgin Mary. She is holding her only begotten Son beneath the dark shadow of the cross. Her arms which had held and nursed and rocked Him, now cradle His lifeless bloody body. That day, Good Friday, it looked as if all hopes were dashed and that death had won the day.
But you see, Jesus is Himself death’s worst nightmare. And three days later, the earth opened up and death let out its prey. Death and hell and the power of the grave literally cracked under His pierced feet.
And now risen from the grave, the Lord Jesus breathes on His disciples, saying: “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.” Folks, this means that when God sends out His ministers, they speak Jesus’ words, not their own. And this word shatters the grave. This word of Christ raises the dead. It reconciles friends, and it fortifies marriages. It restores everything that is lost because of sin. It returns our loved ones to us. It opens the gates of heaven.
So don’t give into despair and doubt your future. Don’t believe that all is lost when this fallen world brings new disappointments and sorrows. The same Jesus who had compassion for the widow at Nain is compassionate also to you, securing a good future for you, and bringing rest and refreshment through the forgiveness of sins.
That’s why He reaches out to you His body and blood as the antidote to death and the very medicine of immortality. At this altar, death quite literally passes over. Death gives way to life. And the Christian prays with St. Paul, “O death, where is your sting? O grave, where is your victory?”
This confidence in the Gospel of Jesus Christ means that we can meet whatever lies ahead with a cheerful hope. The same Lord who told that widow not to weep is the same Lord who will whisper into your ears, when your own breathing becomes labored, and your eyelids close in restful sleep: “Don’t be afraid.” “I am the resurrection and the life.” “Be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.”
And at that great day when He comes again, all the dead will be raised. Young man, woman, I say to you, arise. Your eyes will open. And you who belong to Christ will rise with a glorified body and enter eternal life with God in heaven. To worship Him. Praise Him. And adore Him.
In the name of Jesus. Amen.
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