3 PENTECOST - PROPER V - C - 16 LUKE 7: 11-17
“I look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. Amen.” Each week we conclude the Nicene Creed with this climatic statement of our faith, but I wonder do we really believe it?
It may surprise you to know that there are professed Christians out there who readily admit that they do not. I vividly recall one such person, who was actually a member of my vestry at the time. She shared that shocking news with me as she greeted me while exiting the church one Easter morning! I’ve never forgotten it.
Sometime later I had the opportunity to ask her privately how she could stand week after week in worship and recite the Creed if she truly did not believe in the resurrection of the dead. She remarked, “Oh, well, I just remain silent at that point.” At least she was honest.
I am certain that most of those who heard Jesus speak of resurrection did not believe him. Even his closest friends, his disciples, and his own family did not believe. The story of that first Easter morning as recorded in all four of the Gospels reveals this fact. Yet Jesus did rise from the dead, as he said he would.
And it was the story of the resurrection, that is, the Easter story, that the Apostles took to the known world that in turn moved people to believe in Jesus as the Son of the Living God even though they had not witnessed that great event with their own eyes. Today’s readings mirror Easter. They all have to do with the power of God to bring life out of death.
In today’s first lesson God uses his servant, the prophet Elijah, to restore the life of a widow’s dead son. Her son restored to life, the widow responds, “Now I know that you are a man of God, and that the word of the Lord in your mouth is truth.”
The apostle Paul, once literally the angel of death amid the early church, as he so admits in today’s Epistle, now preaches the gospel he once tried to destroy. On account of this astonishing news, the churches in Judea glorify God.
The gospel lesson for today is centered on a funeral. Funeral processions are all to common. They were in the time of Jesus and they are today. I can’t tell you how many I have been a part of. In small villages like Nain, the whole village would turn out. In the case of a widow’s only son having died, the tragedy was all the more devastating.
Today’s gospel is one of the three resurrections performed by Jesus as recorded in the gospels. Jesus raises the only son of a widow at Nain. According to Luke as Jesus enters the village he meets the funeral procession as it heading out of the gate of the village towards the cemetery.
He sees the mourners and the mother weeping and he has compassion on her. He is not following along behind the casket like all the rest, but meets death head on. He stops the procession and then does the unthinkable, he touches the casket rendering himself ritually unclean.
If that were not enough, He sends shock waves throughout the crowd of mourners when he says to the them and to the mother “Do not weep,“ and then to the dead, “Young man, I say to you arise.“ The dead man rose and began to speak and he gave him to his mother. “Fear seized them all,“ Luke reports, and “they glorified God saying, “A great prophet has arisen among us,” and “ God has visited his people.”
The phrase “God has visited his people,” was used in the old biblical sense to refer to God “visiting” Israel at the time of the Exodus and other great events. It means “God has come among us, to save and rescue us,” which is the very essence of Jesus’ ministry.
In last week’s gospel Jesus did not see nor did he touch the one who was healed, nor did he speak any words of healing. Today he touches the casket containing the dead body of the widow’s son and speaks the words of life showing that only the Son of God has power over both the living and the dead.
How many believed in resurrection before that event? How many could go away not believing after it?
The gospel is spoken today in the midst of death. And it is in the context of death that the gospel exercises its greatest power. In this context the gospel bears Easter power. It comes to people who have no hope, to people alone in their grief. It comes as a shock, a work that runs against the grain.
Christ’s words and action elicit a range of emotions from fear to praise. But something that is often over looked here is that His words and actions at Nain prefigure his own resurrection. His mother, a widow, will weep at the foot of the cross, at the death of her only son, but her tears, like the widow in today’s story, will turn to joy at His resurrection.
Christ’s words, “Do not weep. Young man, I say to you arise,” fly in the face of all we know and understand about life and death. Yet they are bursting with Easter promise. But no less so than his words spoken to his disciples in the upper room on the night in which he was betrayed, “This is my body given for you. This cup is my blood of the new covenant, shed for you. Do this, in remembrance of me.”
In the Eucharist we taste a bit of Easter under the forms of bread and wine. These are elements common to us, yet redeemed by the crucified and risen Christ. In the Eucharist, God “visits” us and beckons us towards the great and promised feast of which the Eucharist is but a foretaste. In this feast, like the widow’s son, we are restored to the Glory of God.
And because we know that we have been restored, and forgiven through the merits of the crucified and risen Christ, we can stand in faith and not in silence and boldly proclaim, “I look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come,” and believe it. Amen.