Trinity 16 Sermon, 2017

The Sixteenth Sunday After Trinity, 2015
Luke 7:11-17
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt

There are two processions: one of life and one of death. When they meet, we behold the whole reason Jesus came to earth—the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come.

“It was a strange and dreadful strife,” writes Martin Luther, “When life and death contended; The victory remained with life, The reign of death was ended…Death is swallowed up by death, It’s sting is lost forever. Alleluia” (“Christ Jesus Law in Death’s Strong Bands,” stz. 4).

That’s how we should see today’s Gospel lesson.

The widow’s only-begotten son is dead. There’s no hope for her. Mourners surround her as much as death does, and she weeps.

Her only source of care will be God’s acre; no one else will provide. Her husband and son are dead; she’s alone.

We might think that, in the considerable crowd of mourners, there’ll be someone who will help, some redeemer, but the crowd is only doing what is proper. They weep with her, because she’s bitter of heart, but afterwards, they would do what we would do: go home, order pizza, turn on the tv, and stare at our phones.

This is why, in the New Testament, the Greek word for compassion is only used to describe Jesus.

Compassion is a divine attribute.

“When the Lord saw her, he had compassion on her and said to her, ‘Do not weep’” (Luke 7:13).

Greek, again, gives us more than the English does. This isn’t a prohibition against weeping, as in “Thou shalt not weep, ever.” Jesus, Himself, weeps. Crying can be a loving response to many things. What Jesus says is closer to “Be not weeping,” and is as if He says: “I am a reason for your weeping, at this moment, to become joy.”

To show her what He means, ”He came up and touched the bier, and the bearers stood still. And he said, ‘Young man, I say to you, arise.’ And the dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother” (Luke 7:14-15).

Such is the power of Jesus’ words!

When Elijah raised the widow’s son, he prayed, “O Lord my God, let this child’s life come into him again” (1 Kings 17:21). Elijah prayed as He did, because he didn’t have the authority to just raise her.

But Jesus is the Life of the World, God With Us, God Visiting His People, He speaks with authority as only God can, saying: “Young man, I say to you, arise.”

Such is the power of Jesus’ words, had He not said Young man, I say to you, arise,” had He not said, Lazarus, come out” (John 11:43), or Little girl, I say to you, arise” (Mark 5:41), had He not been that specific, then all the dead would’ve been raised.

We see this even in the hour of Jesus’ death.

St. John records Jesus’ last word: Τετέλεσται, “It is finished” (John 19:30). And, at Jesus’ death, St. Matthew writes that the tombs were opened, and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised (cf. Matthew 27:52-53).

Such is the power of Jesus’ words!

Jesus said, “Be not weeping,” and gave the widow her only-begotten son back from the dead.

But where’s our miracle? Why don’t we receive our friends and mothers and sons back from the dead?

What lesson are we to learn, if we’re not to expect the same compassion shown to the mother?

In this case, it helps for us to know where we are in today’s Gospel lesson.

We aren’t in the procession, before the Lord has come to us. In history, Christ has come to us.

But we’re not yet to the resurrection of the dead.

So, in today’s Gospel, we find ourselves at the bier, waiting. Jesus has said, “Be not weeping.”

We have the promise of the resurrection.

But we’re still waiting.

Everyone in both processions heard Jesus’ words. Here, only the one dead man is raised. But all hear, all have the same promise, that Jesus is the promised Messiah, God visiting His people, and He has come to destroy death and to give life.

Today’s Gospel lesson serves as a microcosm of salvation history:

Fallen humanity proceeds from birth to the death that God’s Law requires, God having said to Adam, “In the day that you eat of [the tree of the knowledge of good and evil], you shall surely die” (Genesis 2:17).

Jesus meets that procession in His incarnation and birth. He comes to destroy death and bring life and immortality to light (cf. 2 Timothy 1:10).

We have his Word. We have the promise of the resurrection. And with sober-minded joy, we wait.

Some days, we grieve and mourn, but not like those who have no hope. Some days, we weep, but we weep with the knowledge that on the Last Day our weeping will be turned to joy.

We wait. And we hope.

That’s where we are in today’s Gospel lesson, between the words of our Lord and the resurrection of the dead.

Jesus has come. God is with us. We have His Word and the promise of life eternal. And we wait.

But there’s another comparison that we should be aware of, the parallel between today’s Gospel lesson and the life of Jesus, Himself.

Joseph, the guardian of Jesus, is not spoken of in the Gospels after the twelve year old Jesus is teaching in the temple. From the cross, Jesus gives His mother into the care of St. John, who records it this way: “When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, ‘Woman, behold, your son’” (John 19:26). Jesus ensures that His mother will be taken care of after His death. But tradition teaches that this is necessary because Joseph is dead and has been for some time.

In other words, when Jesus went to a town called Nain, His own mother was a widow whose soul would soon be pierced in the death of her only-begotten son.

St. Luke records it this way: “As [Jesus] drew near to the gate of the town, Behold! [pay attention to this fact], a man who had died was being carried out, the only son of his mother, and she was a widow, and a considerable crowd from the town was with her. And when the Lord saw her, he had compassion on her and said to her, ‘Be not weeping’” (Luke 7:12-13).

This is the compassion Jesus shows from the cross.

Jesus says, “Τετέλεσται,” “It is finished.” And there on the Cross, it’s as if He said, “Here, my friends, is your reason, not for weeping, but for joy. Here is the great reversal! As death was required for Adam’s sin, a lamb was slain to cover him. As death is required for your sin, the Lamb of God goes to Jerusalem to be slain to cover you. Death is swallowed up by the death of God’s only-begotten. Be not weeping. Give thanks to God! Call upon His name! Rejoice and be glad of heart!

God has visited His people, and redeemed them!”

“Fear seized them all” (Luke 7:16), because they realized they were in God’s presence.

And they glorified God saying, “‘God has visited his people.’ And this report about him spread through the whole of Judea and all the surrounding country” (Luke 7:16-17).

Beginning in our own homes we spread to all the world this report. We pray. We confess that Jesus is the prophet promised by God through Moses. Jesus is God With Us who has visited His people.

This is how we should see today’s Gospel lesson.

“It was a strange and dreadful strife,” writes Martin Luther, “When life and death contended; The victory remained with life, The reign of death was ended…Death is swallowed up by death, It’s sting is lost forever.”

There are two processions: one of life and one of death. When they meet, we behold the whole reason Jesus came to earth—the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come.

In Jesus’ name, Amen!

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