The Third Sunday after Pentecost – Series C – Luke 7:11-17

 

In the name of Jesus, Amen.

There is only room in our hearts for so many tragedies at a time.

What makes us despair and grieve today is not always what brought us to tears last month.

We do not carry every tragedy in our hearts at all times. And we do not carry all of them equally.

In a few months, our nation will remember the 15th year after 9/11, and with it many will promise, as they have in all of the years previous, to never forget.

And yet, don’t we forget?

Do we actually carry this tragedy with us at all times, do remember it every day?

Is it not that with every new disaster and crisis, certain memories inch out of our minds, and others move in? Are we actually capable of living with all these heartaches all the time?

After all, what about war in the Middle East, the mass-genocide of Christians, what about the ever-present violence in American cities, tsunamis in Japan, hurricanes hitting the Gulf Coast, the advent of school shootings at Columbine, or even the attack on Pearl Harbor?

Is there actually room in our hearts for those?

Indeed, even as we make vows to never forget, we know that we will.

Because when it comes to tragedies and disasters in this life, it often seems that there is no end.

There is only room in our hearts for so many tragedies at a time.

Certainly this is how the widow at Nain must have felt as she carried her only-begotten son to the grave.

For it seemed as though death had won. It had already taken her husband, and now it had taken her son.

She was left all alone. Death and its curse was piled on, one right after the other. It was too much to bear.

How many times did she cry to heaven and ask God why He took her son instead of her?

How many times did she offer the trade that every grieving person has longed to make?

But such is not our place.

As much as we might like to, we cannot die for another. We can’t go back in time and change seats, we can’t absorb our loved one’s cancer, we can’t exchange the casket for our own.

It seems so unjust that the young would die when the old are tired and would gladly lay down their lives.

But this is not our place. We do not get to choose or trade.

And so it seems as though death takes who it wants, without cause or excuse.

Young men die as easily as the old, in flashes of violence, in tragedies of nature, or by the ravages of disease.

But that is only how it ‘seems’, and ‘seems’ truly is such a slippery and blurry word.

Indeed, the devil, himself, is the master of ‘seems’.

He daily deceives us with the same trick he used on our mother Eve, with what things ‘seemed’ to be.

With fruit that ‘seemed’ pleasing to the eye, so he deceives us with religions that ‘seem’ so much more reasonable and nice, with anger and jealousy that ‘seems’ justified, with pride and greed that ‘seems’ ambitious and wise.

But that is only how it ‘seems’, not how it is.

How it actually, truly is, is that Death has not won. And it will not win. Jesus lives.

Indeed, Man lives not by bread alone or by what ‘seems’ to keep him alive.

How it actually is, how truly is, is that Man lives by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.

Man lives by the Word made Flesh out of God’s mouth and into the virgin’s womb, to the cross, and out again from the tomb.

He lives by the Word out of God’s Mouth and from His right hand to the waters of the Baptismal font.

He lives by the Word out of the Mouth of God and into the mouths of men hidden under bread and wine.

What we cannot do, Jesus can, and He has.

He was not invited to the funeral at Nain. He didn’t even know the son who had died. But he nonetheless, rudely interrupted their weeping.

He barged in and touched the dead. He broke the code of the Law and the paid the penalty.

For by this act of compassion He made Himself unclean, so that He who knew no sin became sin for us.

He took up their grief and their illness, their sorrow and their death.

Death fled the boy and entered Him. Life flowed the other way. It pulsed anew in the son’s young veins.

Jesus, the Lord and Giver of Life, traded places with the dead.

What the mother wished she could do, but could not, Jesus did for her and for him.

He made the offer to the Father that the Father could not refuse. He would die instead of the sinners. He would meet all that justice demands. He would shut the devil’s mouth and empty Hell’s prison.

He spoke and the son arose.

The price for this widow’s son, and every son and daughter would be paid some time later. Pilate’s men would carry out the sentence. The nails would be driven into him binding him to the cross of his compassion. The Law would be fulfilled in Sacrifice. The Blood of God would stop the accusations, the threats, and the wrath of the Father.

It would be and it would remain, perfectly, finally, fully finished.

And yet, even as we look from the funeral at Nain, to the hope finished for us on a cross outside of Jerusalem, still that slippery word comes back again.

For it ‘seems’ as though this raising of the widow’s son is only a fleeting comfort, a temporary resurrection.

After all, the son died again. He is no longer here. The second time the funeral went as planned, all the way to the cemetery, the body placed into the ground.

Maybe this son lived anther 50 years, but that was it. He buried his mother, then he himself died again.

And so, it would ‘seem’ as though death finally got its prize.

But this is only how it ‘seems’, not how it is. In faith, hear and believe the voice of Jesus, and in faith, see beyond the devil’s lies.

For death does not get its prize. When the widow’s son was put to rest the second time, instead he was again given back to his mother!

And not just to her, for he joined the prophets and the martyrs, he joined quiet men and women who lived out their lives in faith despite the odds, despite the way the world ‘seems’ to be, he joined them in eternal rest, in the company of the angels, in the light of the Lamb who once was slain, but is alive.

He believed and lived by the Word of God and it was credited to him as righteousness.

When he was laid to rest, he awoke in heaven, to the joy of his mother and the joy of the heavenly host.

If the resurrection at Nain was a joyous sight, how much greater is the joy in heaven?

And that is good for him, and good for his mother, but we of course still live in this vale of tears.
Our funerals are not yet finished. We cannot trade places with our loved ones, no matter how ready we are to go and how young they are or who they leave behind.

Even if we could, all we could do would be to maybe buy them a few more tear-filled years on earth.

But Jesus has traded places with them. He has died their death, paid their debt, and forgiven their sins.

And those who believe in Him do not die. And do not die ever. They live. They only ‘seem’ to die.

St. Paul says that they are asleep. They’ve gone the way that Jesus led. Their souls are with Christ in glory. Their bodies rest in the ground, and in the meantime, they even join us in the Holy Communion.

For we sing that we come to this table with angels and archangels and with all the company of heaven.

They will awake, they will rise and be perfected, rejoined to their souls once again.

And that is just as true for those who mourn the losses of tragedies today. Jesus lives. He has shut the mouth of the way things ‘seem’ to be, and has placed into your mouth, the way things really are. His body and blood given, his life held fast to eternity, his resurrection given to you.

And soon we will forget these tragedies, not because we are lazy or busy.

We will forget them because they will be no more. They will come to an end.

For Jesus lives! And His mercy doesn’t just seem, but truly does endure forever.

In the name of Jesus, Amen.