June 9, 2013 - Luke 7.11-17

“God of Life”

Luke 7:11-17

June 9, 2013

 

11Soon afterwards he went to a town called Nain, and his disciples and a large crowd went with him. 12As he approached the gate of the town, a man who had died was being carried out. He was his mother’s only son, and she was a widow; and with her was a large crowd from the town. 13When the Lord saw her, he had compassion for her and said to her, “Do not weep.” 14Then he came forward and touched the bier, and the bearers stood still. And he said, “Young man, I say to you, rise!” 15The dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother. 16Fear seized all of them; and they glorified God, saying, “A great prophet has risen among us!” and “God has looked favorably on his people!” 17This word about him spread throughout Judea and all the surrounding country.

 

Perhaps the most avoided topic in our society is death. Though it occurs to every living person, we have gotten very good at isolating ourselves from it.


In an earlier age, death was understood to be a natural part of society. People were allowed to die at home, rather than in a nursing home or a hospital. After death, they were not sent off to a mortuary, but kept home in bed, and prepared there for visitation and burial. Once the bed had been vacated, it was put back into service for the living. How odd it would seem today to sleep in a bed that someone had died in.


People in less modernized cultures still deal with death the way we did in North America in a less antiseptic age. People of all ages come into contact with those who are sick and dying. Even children see the progression of life to death and become as familiar with it in people as they are with the deaths of house pets and farm animals.


Today, for most of us, death is kept at a distance. It usually occurs in isolated places where only specialists have to deal with it. Afterwards, when families prepare to make funeral arrangements, more specialists step in to maintain a margin of insulation around the grieving. Most of us have little to do with the death professionals. Undertakers, morticians, funeral directors: these terms - and occupations - make people nervous. One often thinks twice before shaking their hands, knowing what they have been up to in their embalming chambers.


In Jesus' day, death was not so distant. The death rate in his day was no different than in ours: 100% of all people born eventually died. But, there were no professionals on hand to deal with death and burial. The body would be prepared for burial by the woman (thus, the story of the women being the first at the tomb to discover the risen Jesus in Luke 23:55-24:11).


For Jesus and his large crowd of followers to encounter a funeral procession while traveling through the town of Nain would not have been in any way out of the ordinary. That Jesus would have had compassion on the mother of the dead man was also to be expected. She was a widow, and with the death of her son came a loss of income and all hope for future security. What certainly was unusual was what Jesus did when he approached the funeral bier. He spoke, "Young man, I say to you, arise." Immediately, the dead man was filled with new life. He sat up and spoke. That was not something anyone had seen happen before - nor have we since, despite the stories to the contrary that come out of Hollywood.

 

The situation of a funeral might have been cause for Jesus and his followers to give wide berth. At this point, it would seem that there was nothing that even a prophet like Jesus could do. He had previously demonstrated his power over the forces of illness. But, whether illness or injury, this situation had progressed terminally. There would have been nothing left for Jesus to do. It would have made sense for him to stand aside and keep a respectful, but also ritually pure distance from the passing corpse.


Something moved Jesus deeply, however. The Greek splagnizomai is a visceral verb, relating the seat of emotions to one's innards. Jesus had a visceral reaction to the scene that passed by. The young dead man was the only son of a widow. Jesus' compassion was for something more than a passing corpse. It was for the living. In losing this son, the widow had also lost her income. He was her only breadwinner. Jesus said to the woman, "Don't cry." Then he touched the coffin and spoke to the one within it, "Young man, I say to you, get up!" When the son arose, Jesus "gave him back to his mother." His life had been restored; but so had hers. She was restored to a place in the economic community.


This episode in Luke forces us to think about death for a change. Most of the time, we can relegate death to the specialists and deal with it only as it becomes necessary. But, it is useful for people of faith to have a better relationship with things relating to death. This is true, in part, because the more familiar we are with something, the less fearful of it we will be. But, it is also true because faith is vitally about living and dying. They are inseparable. Denial of that fact is the enemy both of mental health and mature faith.


Jesus confronts death. In this story, he does not stop to worry about issues of ritual uncleanness. His compassion is stronger than religious piety. Jesus' compassion grows out of his concern for a woman whose social security program is being carried out on a funeral bier. More than an only son has died. Her own life is now in a desperate situation. The natural order of things was for the woman to give birth to a son who would care for her in her old age. She would die first, and later, his children would take care of him when he was too old to earn an income. The natural order of things was suspended in this story. Mothers should not have to bury their sons. Sons should bury their mothers. It was this imbalance that was altered by Jesus' entering the situation and loosening the grip that death had on this family.

What does the story of Jesus raising the man from Nain have to tell us about God's relationship to the living?  There is a special bond between Jesus and those of us who are living for him in this world.  We are moved by him and Jesus is moved by us.

 

Former CNN host Larry King has said that he shares a special bond with Dr. Wayne Isom.  Why?  Dr. Isom was Larry King’s heart surgeon, and Wayne Isom has held Larry’s heart in his hand.  Those of you who have had heart surgery might know what Larry is talking about.  We are Christians, followers of Jesus, and he has held all of our hearts in his hand.  He is bonded to us and we to him.

 

God first breathed the breath of life into creation in Genesis 1 (where a breath, that is, ruach or spirit, "from God swept over the face of the waters," (1:1). God breathed into Adam the first breath of human life (Gen 2:7). And God breathed the Holy Spirit into the church at Pentecost (Acts 2:1-13).  In the same manner, Jesus breathed new life into the young man of Nain by speaking the words, "Young man, I say to you, arise." The story indicates that bringing life is what Jesus is about. He does not ignore death, or seek insulation from it. He does not let the funeral procession pass by or demonstrate concerns about being among the unclean. Jesus sees death as the force contrary to God's will and acts to overcome it. In the end, his whole life will be about that one thing, overcoming the power of death and bringing new life.

 

It may seem odd that Jesus spoke directly to a corpse. Words are for the living. Corpses have ears, but only the living have ears to hear (see Luke 8:8 and 14:35). But, Jesus' words are not ordinary human words. Through them, God speaks. The same voice that spoke an inanimate void into creation, spoke to the lifeless body. The result was the same, the generation of life.
The progression of circumstance, from speaking wisdom, to speaking healing, to speaking life, demonstrates what Jesus' mission was about. Eventually, God will speak through him on the cross and accomplish not a single resuscitation, but the redemption of all humanity.  Jesus is, as Luke ultimately demonstrates, the Messiah, God's physical manifestation of God's life-giving desire and restorative power.

 

Jesus brings new life to a dead man.  But he does this more than just in a physical sense.  If you feel dead inside, Jesus can resurrect your soul.  And it doesn’t apply to just individuals.  Jesus can resurrect a dead church, too.  Individuals, Churches, families, Jesus offers us all new life.  “Beloved – Rise Up.”

 
Jesus is the God of Life.  He is the bringer of life.  Where Jesus is present, really present, there is always new life.  Will you be able to experience this new life?  Are you so afraid of death that you cannot hear Jesus’ words?  “Beloved – rise up.”  Jesus is offering you new life and is calling your name.  Do not let this moment pass you by.

 

 

 

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