Jesus who is risen from the dead is also the One who raises the dead. In this case, a young man, a widow’s son. We don’t know how he died. Was it an accident or an illness? “Natural causes” or something else? When the young die, it always draws the attention of the community. It’s almost an axiom that the older you are, the fewer people there will be at your funeral, unless you are rich and famous. But when the young die, there is always a crowd for the funeral, as there was that day in the little town of Nain.
Jesus and His disciples had come near just as the funeral procession was heading for the graveside. The grief was thick. He was the only son of his widowed mother. First she had buried her husband, and now her only son. Who would care for her? Who would provide for her? How could she carry on with the rest of her life?
Death, that indecent enemy of our humanity, had robbed her twice, first of a husband and now of her only son. We can only begin to imagine her pain, the tears of grief, the feeling of helplessness, anger, despair, the endless nights of weeping that would not end with the burial. Death is the wages of sin; it’s the price of Adam’s sin and our own. That young man was a sinner, born with the congenital disease of Adam in his own flesh and bones. Whatever it was that killed him, the cause of his death was sin and the Law that kills sinners. “The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the Law.”
That’s sometimes overlooked at funerals. We’re hesitant to talk about sin amidst all the grief over death of a loved one. We know they weren’t perfect, and we know, at least in our heads, that they are sinners, but we really don’t want to hear about it at the funeral. We’d rather hear about all the good things they did. “Celebrate a life,” as the Forest Lawn ads like to say. There’s nothing wrong and everything right with celebrating a life, as God is the Author and Lord of life. God hates death as much as we do, even more than we do. In celebrating life, though, we need to recognize the reality of death, what comes to every son and daughter of Adam simply for being a son and daughter of Adam. We are born to die, and it’s our adamic sin that is killing us. Denial gets you nowhere.
Jesus looked attentively, compassionately at the grieving mother. He picks her out of the crowd of mourners. He knows who she is. On the cross, He would single out His own dear mother and provide a son for her in His death. Here, His compassionate heart reaches out to her as only Jesus can, and He speaks the consoling compassionate Word that only the Word Incarnate can speak with full meaning, “Do not weep.”
We sometimes say that to each other, in our shallow attempts at comfort. “Don’t cry, don’t be sad, don’t weep.” Those well-intentioned words do little, if anything to stem the flood of tears. But with Jesus, it’s different. His words come with action. Divine action. His words are action. He goes to the open coffin and touches it. He is calm, resolute, staring death in the face unafraid. The pallbearers stop dead in their tracks, wondering. Jesus speaks again. “Young man, I say to you, arise.” Didn’t He know His name? Of course He did! He’s the Lord. But instead, like Jairus’ daughter, He simply calls him “young man,” as though to say, “You’re not the only one I’m going to raise from the dead. I’m going to raise a lot of young men and old men, and little girls and grown women, and a whole world of dead,” including you and me.
Arise. The resurrection word. Get up. For Jesus, it’s like waking someone up from sleep. He tells the dead to get up, and they do, in the very power of His Word. That’s all it takes is a Word from the Lord of life who came to defeat Death itself by His dying. One little word. Arise.
Notice the difference with Elijah. When Elijah raised the widow’s son Zarephath, he did it by prayer. He stretched himself out over the boy, literally covering him with his own body, and he cried out to the Lord three times, “O Yahweh, my God, let this child’s life come into him again.” And the Lord heard Elijah’s prayer. But Jesus is more than a prophet; He’s the eternal Son in the Flesh. He doesn’t pray, He commands. He doesn’t plead with the Father, He orders dead people around, and they hear Him and His Word does what it says. The young man sat up in his own coffin, and he began to speak. Dead men don’t sit up, and they don’t speak.
That’s the power of the Word. The Word that baptized you and forgives you and feeds you the Bread of Life and the Cup of Immortality, the Body and Blood of Christ who took our humanity to death and the grave and raised it up to the right hand of the Father in eternal glory. Remember the promise of Jesus in the Capernaum synagogue:
And this is the will of HIm who sent me, that I shall lose none of all that He has given me, but raise them up at the Last Day.
For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in Him shall have eternal life and I will raise him up at the Last Day.
Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the Last Day.
Those promises are yours in Baptism, held in trust for you, reiterated for you as you eat and drink the Body and Blood of the One who destroyed death by dying. The “medicine of immorality” as the ancient fathers called the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. The antidote to death itself. The sting of death is sin; its venom is the Law. But thanks be to Jesus, who by His perfect life under the Law became the anti-venom of sin, and by His perfect death under the Law destroyed the power of death once and for all.
You say, that’s nice. I’m happy for that widow of Zarephath who got her son back, and for that widow at Nain who got your boy back from the dead. They must have been overjoyed. They went out to bury their sons only to get them back alive. Wonderful for them, but what about me? What about the loved ones I have buried? What about those of whom death has robbed me? What about all the other widows and single mothers in Israel; surely there were more grieving mothers and father and husbands and wifes than just these two. We go to the cemetary, to the graves of our loved ones who have fallen asleep in Jesus. What about them? What about us, when the doctors say, “I’m sorry, but there’s nothing more we can do for you.” Or, “the cancer has returned and there is no cure.” What about those sons and daughters who go off to war and never return home again, those countless crosses and grave markers under which are buried someone’s son, someone’s daughter.
This is where we need to understand and receive the miracle for what it is – a sign for our faith, and a foretaste of the feast to come on that Last Day, on Resurrection Day when the Lord Jesus appears in all His glory and raises all the dead, and gives eternal life to all His believers. What He did for the young man on the way to his burial, He will do for you. Raise you up. Touch your coffin and say, “Young man, young woman arise.” And there won’t be a single corpse that doesn’t rise on that day He speaks the word of resurrection over the face of the earth. What He did for that grieving mother going out of the city with her neighbors to bury her only son, He will do for you in your grief and sorrow. “Weeping remains for a night, but rejoicing comes in the morning of the resurrection.”
Resurrection means reunion, life with God, life in Christ, life in communion with one another. The apostle Paul considered this when he wrote the Christians in the congregation at Thessalonica. They had some strange notion that those who died before Jesus appeared were lost and would never be seen or heard from again. Paul writes this, by the Holy Spirit who guides into all truth:
1Th. 4:13 But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. 14 For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. 15 For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. 16 For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. 18 Therefore encourage one another with these words.
This isn’t wishful thinking on Paul’s part, some sweet sentiment scratched on a sympathy card to make us “feel better.” This is “by a word from the Lord” Himself, a promise of the One who is the Resurrection and the Life. This is rock solid and sure, just as Jesus is risen from the dead and lives and reigns to all eternity. We will always be with the Lord – raised and reunited in the Lord, as surely as He is risen from the dead, lives and reigns to all eternity. This is most certainly true.
In the Name of Jesus,