Behold, before you today are two processions one from Nain, another to Nain. One filled with sorrow and grief and the other with eager anticipation of the coming King. One procession headed toward life, the other toward certain death.
Things aren’t as they seem and there are things at play in our text for today that have importance for our daily lives. More importantly though the words of our text are imperative for us as we prepare for the inevitable consequences St. Paul speaks about in Romans 6:23; the wages of sin are death. Wages are earned and St. Paul reminds us why we die; we are filled with sin that causes death. We too, will be carried in procession to our graves like the young man in our text. Unless Jesus comes again soon, there’s no way around it.
On my vicarage I was informed by my unofficial supervisor that the Christian faith had nothing to do with how we live our lives this side of heaven, and I am compelled to believe that scripture confirms this saying as Peter reminds us in 1 Peter 2; Dear friends, I urge you, as foreigners and exiles, to abstain from sinful desires, which wage war against your soul. It’s true, the faith does inform us of the things we are to do in this life but moreso the Faith informs not so much how to live well as it does as to how we die well. For many this serves as a stumbling block; but no doubt you have heard countless times of the great need of forgiveness, life and salvation from this pulpit and your own readings of the Holy Scriptures and while these things are important for us and our lives now, in order that we might live as foreigners with the Joy and Peace of Sins forgiven our Lord wishes for us to know that these things are those gifts that last well beyond this temporal life.
It’s a sad thing to me, that the occasion of death leads so many Christians to look backward; to remember. To remember back when, days when our loved ones weren’t sick, days prior to the accidents or diseases that claimed those we loved. And there is no doubt that the mother in our text felt the same. Her child, her only remaining child, the son of her dead husband, her flesh and blood who in the stead of his dead father provided food, shelter and clothing to his widowed mother now was dead and gone. And yet there was a future for this woman too. A future that would be fraught with more calamity and worry. For she had not only lost her Husband and son but had lost her livelihood, her source of well-being for it was the men who rightly provided all the means of life to their families. As such, to the widow, the darkness of past, present and future would have been inconceivable, something perhaps that those of us who have witnessed death could conceive of but none of us could possibly suffer with. For that is the true meaning of compassion and sympathy, to suffer with as if you were the very person.
They carried her son from the city, out of the gates of Nain where this woman and the procession that followed her would meet face to face with the crowd of eager disciples and followers of the Lord God. Eager for the coming reign of the King, so eager in fact that the disciples just two chapters later in Luke 9 will argue over who would be the greatest among them once Jesus came into His kingdom. The widow and her hopeless procession, met with the crowd whose hope boiled over crowd. But the truth of the matter was that each procession erred.
Don’t get me wrong, the death procession was right to mourn and the Jesus procession was right to rejoice but each failed to rightly see the truth of the matter. Their eyes told them, that the dead boy was headed to the grave as much as their eyes told them that Jesus was headed to His glorious throne as an earthly king. But our Lord struck by compassion and a pouring out of his guts to the woman in her grief knew the truth. And it was this occasion that would harken back to the Prophets of old that would truly show who was headed to death and who was headed to life.
It’s often difficult for us as Christians to know and to see that this episode, that preceeded His certain death would serve to further foreshadow Who He was and what He had come to do for mourning widows, dead sons and sinners like you and me. For your Lord and King didn’t just get a good sense of what the widow in our text was feeling all the way down to her guts, no, indeed the incarnate Son of God, true man Jesus Christ, is the very One the prophet Isaiah spoke of: Surely He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows. And dear Christians this didn’t just start that day outside of Nain. Christ Jesus, was born a man, that He might be Emmanuel, God with us, the very God who became sin, vicariously embodied sin and carried the grief, sorrow, sadness and guilt of that sin to death with Him on the cross in your place. He had compassion on her, He knew every heartache, every physical and heartfelt pain of that woman that day and thus He speaks “Do not weep.” The interesting thing about our Lord’s words here are that they have less to do with that day and time, and more to the permanent state of not weeping; for you see it was in this raising of her son that your God and King would show us two things: That He, the author and perfector of life, actually knew her pain and her understanding that death was not a friend but a foe, one to be hated and loathed and moved still to show secondly that He alone had power over death.
“He touched the bier (open casket), and the bearers stood still. And He said, young man, I say to you arise. And then the dead man sat up and began to speak and Jesus gave him to his mother. Those words were shocking! So shocking in fact that the crowd called our Lord a Prophet. Most assuredly some of them would have remembered Elijah, who in the book of 1 Kings 17 was a guest in the home of a woman – a widow – from the town of Zarephath who had lost her son to death as well. Yet, Elijah raised her son from the dead. Listen to the account:
And he stretched himself out on the child three times, and cried out to the LORD and said, “O LORD my God, I pray, let this child’s soul come back to him.” Then the LORD heard the voice of Elijah; and the soul of the child came back to him, and he revived.
Dearly beloved, surely you noticed the difference between the way the widow of Zarephath’s dead son was raised by Elijah and the way the widow of Nain’s dead son was raised by Jesus? Both boys were dead. Both boys were raised from the dead. In both cases the scriptures of 1 Kings and Luke say that the prophet gave the boy back to his mother. There is marked similarity between these two events.
But there is a clear and significant difference and it is important for us to know this difference. Elijah prayed to God that the boy’s soul would come back to him. Jesus did not pray. He said, “Young man, I say to you, arise.” I say to you. Who is “I”? He is none other than the LORD to whom Elijah prayed.
Elijah could not raise the dead boy by his own power. Jesus could. And he did. This is what brought fear to the crowd. As such it should have occurred to all that Jesus is more than a great prophet. Elijah merely showed the widow of Zarephath that he was a man of God. Jesus showed the crowd outside of Nain that he was God. Only God could command a dead boy to rise from the dead. Only God commands death to give way to life.
So it was from that day forth that Christ your Lord would remind all who followed Him why He had come. He had come to die. He had come to fulfill all that the Father required to eradicate the sin that causes both temporal and eternal death and He would do it willingly. He had come to be the fulfillment of what Paul speaks of today in our Epislte in order that you might hear the very truth of the One and only True God who came down from heaven to die and rise again for you for the forgiveness of your sins. That you might know for certain that through baptism into Christ and His death and resurrection that Christ dwells in your hearts, indeed your entire existence, through faith that you- being rooted and grounded in love (true love is Christ who lives in you) may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.
It is not enough for your Lord that you might know faintly who He is and what He has done for you. It is not enough that we should treat our eternal souls like the cell phones that we use whose batteries run down as the day goes on. He has come, indeed He is here, in the words that pass into your ears to your hearts that you might know (embody, live and have an overflowing amount) of your Lord’s graciousness, mercy, love and peace. Do not weep dear Christians for Christ your Lord has conquered the foes of sin, death and the devil. He has spoken absolutely and finally from His mighty throne of the cross where He rules with a crown and the mighty scepters that pierced His hands and feet in order that you might live now and forever in Him. And it is to Him who is able to do far more abundantly than all we ask or think, according to the power of God that is at work in us through the simple means of Word and sacrament. He has inclined His ear to you and answered you. And though we cry and lament our days of sojourn here this side of heaven He is gracious to you, for He is good and forgiving abounding in steadfast love to all who call upon Him. He has provided all things for you, to Him be glory in the Church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.