In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
It’s nice when the Lord gets there in time. Like last week, when we heard about the centurion who sent messengers to Jesus, so that He might heal the centurion’s servant. Jesus is on His way, and apparently He gets there in time. Although, strangely, Jesus never says a word about or to the servant, we are left with the distinct impression that Jesus has healed him, because when the messengers go back, the servant is whole and well.
But sometimes Jesus doesn’t get there in time. Like in the verses from Luke 7 that we heard today. Jesus doesn’t get to Nain in time to heal this man, this only son of the widow. The man is dead, maybe killed working to support his widowed mother. But whatever it was that killed him, Jesus is too late to keep him from dying. They’re already on their way to the cemetery. And this happens again, a little later in Luke’s Gospel. This time, it’s the only daughter of a leader of a synagogue; he comes to Jesus, begging Him to heal his daughter, and Jesus goes with him. But on the way, Jesus stops to talk with a woman and heal her. And by the time they get to the house of the synagogue leader, the girl is dead. Jesus is too late. And we know from John’s Gospel that Jesus intentionally waits until His friend Lazarus is dead before He goes there. Lazarus’s sisters both say to Jesus: “Lord, if you had been here, our brother would not have died.” You came too late. Now, of course, we know what happens. Jesus raises all three of these people from the dead. And so we can read and hear them as nice stories in a book. Hearing the story, did you register even the slightest emotion at hearing about this woman and the death of her son? Me neither. You probably do what I do: oh, I’ve heard this story before, and our brains shut off. But what if you were in these stories? They wouldn’t just float past us. Are they just stories? Are they just illustrations of the fact that Jesus is a nice guy? Or that He can do miraculous things?
Which of us would be able to say with Job, “The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away; blessed be the Name of the Lord”? If it were my son or my daughter, I might want to say it, but I don’t know if my mouth could form the words. I know it’s not, but to me Job’s words sound like there’s no feeling behind them, just apathy and resignation. “The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away,” a sort of stoic stoniness. That’s not what Elijah says. When he comes back to the widow’s house, where he had been staying, he finds that the widow’s only son is dead. And she wants to know what’s going on. Elijah takes the boy to the upper room, and he cries out to God: Why have You brought this disaster on this widow, with whom You told me to stay? Why did you kill her son? No nonsense about God “allowing” it to happen; nothing about him being in a better place, or no more suffering. Just, why? And Elijah prays three times: God, give him back his life. God, give him back his life. God, give him back his life. And He does. The boy is alive again, and Elijah gives him back to his mother. And the woman says, “Now I know that you are a man of God, and the word of Yahweh in your mouth is truth.” Now I know that you are a man of God, and the word of Yahweh in your mouth is truth. How does she know this? Because the dead are raised.
And then there’s this other widow, with another dead son, coming out of the town of Nain. But she never says anything; no one says anything. Except Jesus, who puts an end to this funeral procession. Jesus puts His hand on the boy’s coffin, and ends this funeral procession in mid-sentence, in mid-wail, in mid-tear. He says to the woman, “Stop weeping.” I know the English says, “Do not weep,” but she was already weeping. He says, “Stop weeping.” Now in the mouth of any other man, this would be the worst kind of sentimentality, the worst kind of false comfort. “Stop weeping?! My son is dead, and I might as well be, too. Stop weeping?” But in the mouth of Jesus, these words are pure peace. Because Jesus raises the dead. He says, “Young man, I say to you, get up.” And the man does; and Jesus gives him back to his mother. And the crowds are filled with fear, and they say, “’A great prophet has arisen among us!’ And, ‘God has visited His people!’” I have no doubt that many of them, at least, are thinking of Elijah. They’re saying, “A great prophet like Elijah has arisen among us.” “God has visited His people like He did in the days of Elijah.” But there’s a difference between Jesus and Elijah: Jesus is not just “a man of God”; He is the Man who is God. Jesus does not just have the word of Yahweh in His mouth; He is the Word of Yahweh, made flesh, and spoken into this world. Elijah didn’t kill the widow’s son; God did. And Jesus is God. Which means we have a problem. The Lord taketh. Jesus lets death have its way with us. Jesus lets death run its course. Jesus lets the grave reign over our lives. When was the last time you went to a funeral and the dead man or the dead women got up and started talking? So, either the Word of God has been silenced, or something more is going on than what we can see. But we would have no idea what that was, except for Jesus Himself. Except for the fact that death ran its course in Jesus’ own body. Except for the fact that death appeared to reign over God Himself on the cross. Except for the fact that Jesus rose from the dead. That’s the proof that He is God, that He is the Word that God wanted to speak in the face of all the death we can see. Jesus is done with half-measures; He’s done with patches, and band-aids, and temporary fixes. He’s done with raising people from the dead only to have them die again, like this man, and the 12-year old girl, and Lazarus. He’s done with healing people only to have them get sick again. He doesn’t want you to live ten more years; He wants you to live forever. He doesn’t want you to have a better life; He wants you to have a new life. And that’s what His resurrection is: new life. Not the resuscitation of dead flesh, but a created body clothed with immortality. He is alive, but His body is unlike anything that has ever existed in this world.
The Lord taketh, yes. But He giveth away more than He ever took. And what He takes isn’t all that good anyway. He takes your sin, and He gives you the holiness of Jesus. He takes your death, and He gives you the life of the resurrected Jesus. He takes your dying flesh, and He gives you the living flesh and blood of Jesus. He takes your tears, and your mourning, and your grief, and He gives you peace and joy that do not depend on how your life goes from day to day. His very word is peace, because, and only because, He raises the dead. The Lord taketh, and the Lord giveth away, more than you ever need or could ask for. He takes all our strength, all our resolve, everything that is not Jesus, so that what He gives is by His power alone. He takes, but He gives back in Christ sons and daughters, mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters, husbands and wives. He takes all the things that we confuse for life in this world, all the things on which we rely, even our lives, but He gives Himself freely in return. Blessed be the Name of the Lord.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7, ESV). Amen.
— Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 6/8/13