Posted on October 3rd, 2009
From Sept. 27, 2009
Gospel: Luke 7:11-17
The American religion tends to equate faith with success, prosperity, and health. If you lead a good life, good things will come to you. One slogan puts it this way: “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life.” The first part is true. But God’s plan for the followers of Jesus might not be what the world calls “wonderful.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s famous saying is more accurate: “When God calls a man, He bids him come and die.” Faith or obedience will not eliminate tribulations in our life. Afflictions come to the faithful to strengthen their faith further. Whom the Lord loves, He chastens.
That chastening came down hard on the woman in today’s Gospel reading. Her husband is dead, and now her son – her only son, Luke emphasizes. He stresses that not just because of the sadness involved. Many of you know the deep sorrow that comes from the loss of children, from miscarriage to stillbirth to the death of a grown child. But beyond that sorrow, the loss of her only son, for this woman, has impoverished this woman. Her sorrow must have been coupled with anxiety, as she wondered and worried about her bleak future – a future without the protection of a husband or the love of a son, who could care for her as she grows old.
Last Sunday’s Gospel dealt with anxieties, the things we worry about; Jesus exposed our anxiety, which is really a failure to trust in God: “Why do you worry?” Today’s Gospel carries that theme to its conclusion, raising the specter of death. Death is the real source of all our worries and anxieties. The fear of death subjects every person to lifelong bondage (Heb. 2.15).
The wages of sin is death, but death – or rather, our constant experience of dying – causes so many sins. We worry because we don’t really believe that all things work for good to those who love God. Sins of adultery, sexual lust, anger, greed, envy, covetousness, gluttony, lies – all of it flows from a failure to be content with what God has given, and an experience that things are slipping away. Time keeps on ticking into the future – a future that we know, but often refuse to articulate, will end in the loss of all our possessions, all our health, and eventually, the wiping away of our very memory from the earth, as our bodies decompose and return to dust.
So we are impotent to offer meaningful comfort to a woman like this widow in the gospel. What can we say that really helps? “I’m sorry for your loss.” “My condolences.” “Our thoughts and prayers go out to you.” “He’s in a better place.” I like Solomon’s honesty a lot better: “Meaningless, meaningless, everything is meaningless.”
But you can’t very well say that at the funeral. We say these other things because there’s nothing we can do to help, but we do feel bad. But Jesus says something shocking: “Stop crying.” Audacious, by itself. But it is not by itself. He follows it by stretching out His arm to halt the coffin-bearers, and then these potent words: “Young man, I say to you, arise!” And His Word performs what it says.
This is the Gospel. This is the most important thing you can ever hear. This is the heart and center of the Christian faith: The Son of God became man to destroy the works of the devil. The Son of God became man to trample down death by His own death. You, along with the entire human race, are mired in death. But in Jesus is life. For where there is forgiveness of sins, there is also life and salvation.
Why is this miracle recorded for us? By Jesus raising the dead, He proved who He is. Only God has the power of life. But more than proving who He is, He also demonstrated God’s disposition toward man. “When the Lord saw her, He had compassion on her.” That is His attitude to her, to you, and the whole human race. That is why God was made man: because of His compassion; to show mercy.
But also in this great miracle, we learn what the kingdom of God looks like. Death is not natural, just a part of life. Death has no place in the kingdom of God. The kingdom of God is entirely different: filled with mercy and compassion, the wiping away of tears, the death of death.
So the raising of the widow’s son is just a foretaste of what God has in store. This boy’s resurrection is still very different from the resurrection of Jesus. When the widow’s son was raised, he became like he was before. He was mortal. He would die again. However, when Jesus rose from the dead, He dies no more. Death has no more dominion over Him. That is why we can speak of Jesus as the first to rise from the dead, even though there are other resurrections before Jesus. Only Jesus rose in such a way as to not die again. But He is called the first to rise from the dead because, on the last day of this age, all the dead will rise again from the grave in their bodies, and all believers in Christ will receive eternal life.
Thus our Christian hope is not based on speculation, an idea, or a philosophy. It is based on the actions that Jesus did for others, but most importantly the death and resurrection of Jesus Himself. This is why the Eucharist is so important. When we come to Christ’s table, it is no symbol, or mere memorial meal. We are joined to Christ, and He to us. He is joined to us in death, and we are joined to Him in resurrection. The body of Christ stops death in its tracks. That is the body of Christ given to us. That body, received in the Eucharist, overcomes death. It will reverse the power of death. His living body will revive your dead body, and you shall live in His kingdom forever.
So what do we take away from today’s Gospel? All our anxieties, all our sins, and finally our death itself, is overturned and reversed by Jesus, the crucified and risen One. He has had compassion on our race, and by His Word death has lost its power.