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Sermon for Trinity 16

by Rev. Brian Hamer ~ October 31st, 2011

Sermon on St. Luke 7:11-17

The Widow’s Son at Nain

Trinity XVI

+ Jesu Juva +

She was the mother of the dead. We all expect to bury our parents. This woman had probably already grieved over both parents. We expect one spouse to have to bury the other. This widow had already buried her husband. And now the unthinkable: she had to buy her only son. St. Luke does not tell us how young this boy was, but in the eyes of a mother, she was burying her little boy. Those of you who have attended funerals for children have a sense of just how painful it is. The small casket. The unspeakable pain. The ultimate question, which can only be addressed at the foot of the cross: Why? Yes, I say, this grieving widow, following her son’s bier on a dirt road outside the small town of Nain, accompanied by hired mourners and musicians, was an icon of death. She is a bold statement of Law for you and me, for she reminds us that we are all the children of Eve. We are born into the curse of the Fall, bearing the same curse that was promised to our first parents: “In the day that you eat of [the Tree of Knowledge], you shall surely die” (Gen 2:17).

“And when the Lord saw her, he had compassion.” The word “compassion” here describes the One who can raise the dead and end a mother’s grief. The word literally means the complete outpouring of the inner parts, even a pain in the bows. Jesus’s entire being went out to her, so that helping her was everything to Him. Later in Luke’s Gospel, the Good Samaritan will have compassion on the victim on the roadside (10:33). And the father in the Parable of the Prodigal Son will have compassion on his son when he returns in repentance (15:20). The word “compassion,” then, is loaded with Christ and His mercy. Here we see that Jesus’ reason for existence is to have compassion on us. The complete outpouring of Jesus’ mercy for us is His incarnation. Our heavenly Father saw us in our need. He beheld the great funeral procession of all mankind: our grief and sorrow; our sickness and suffering; our death and dying. And He decided to abolish death by becoming man: God with us, God one of us, God in human flesh and blood. And He became man so He could put that body on the cross–to die our death, to end death’s awful reign, and to give us the immortality of eternal life. For by His death, He has “abolished death and brought life and immortality to light” (2 Tim 1:10).

And then what happens? “Then [Jesus] came up and touched the bier, and the bearers stood still.” According to the Holiness Code in Leviticus, anyone who touched a dead body or the bier (sort of a primitive stretcher), was made unclean. But in this case, Jesus’ own holiness overrules the Holiness Code. For instead of the dead body infecting Jesus, Jesus purifies the dead body with new life. And so the pallbearers stood still and Jesus said, “Young man, I say to you, arise!” To Jairus’ daughter He once said, “Little girl, I say to you, arise!” (Mk 5:41). To Lazarus He would say, “Lazarus, come forth!” (Jn 11:43). And the Word of God is powerful enough to give what it says and to fulfill its own demands, even when raising the dead. This same command to rise up out of death itself is given to you and me in baptism. Baptism is our journey from the darkness of death to the joy of everlasting life. In some early baptismal services, the order of baptism begins just before sunrise, the darkness of the night reminding us of the darkness of death. After baptism in the name of the Triune God, the newly baptized process from a separate room for baptisms into the sanctuary at sunrise on Easter morning. Satan has been renounced and the darkness has been conquered. It’s as if Jesus said to us, “Young man, young daughter, I say to you, arise!” and gave us to holy mother church.

“And the dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother.” The Word of God is powerful and active, sharper than any two-edged sword. It “kills and makes alive,” as today’s OT lesson puts it. And how does a dead corpse respond to the life-giving Word of God? See how the Word of God dispels death and brings a dead body back to life! Sorrow is turned to joy and a funeral is turned into a “welcome back” party. And how does the crowd respond? “Fear seized them all, and they glorified God, saying, ‘A great prophet has arisen among us,’” for Jesus is the One who speaks for God, whether He is forgiving sins or raising the dead. And the crowds got it right when they said, “God has visited his people,” for He visits His people to restore them to life in the person and work of Christ. So it is for you and me! God has raised you from the dead in baptism. He restores you to life every time we hear the life-giving word of absolution, “I forgive you all your sins.” And He invites you to eat with Him at this table, where He gives you His very body and blood. And you, who otherwise die eternally, lift up your hearts to the Lord in thankfulness and praise.

And then what happens? “This report about him spread through the whole of Judea and all the surrounding country.” The report was the good news that the prophet has arisen among God’s people. He raises the dead and heals broken hearts. He is on His way to Jerusalem to raise us from the death of sin and give us the light of the gospel. And after His resurrection, the good news of life and immortality for all men will spread from Jerusalem, through Judea and all the surrounding country, and even to the very ends of the earth. See, Dearly Beloved, how we are both the recipients and the heralds of this good news. We have heard the report of Jesus’ death for our sins and His resurrection to new life. We believe it, and by believing we have life in His name. And just as the gospel cries out to be sung (not just spoken), so the report that Jesus has abolished death and brought life and immortality to light is too good to keep to ourselves. We tell the good news about Jesus through whole of our region and all the surrounding country. It spreads through this very preaching, through your efforts to reach out to your unchurched family and friends. Through you, Christ preaches the good news that He has abolished death and brings life and immortality to light.

She is the mother of all the living. She is the most important woman in your life, the Lady who begets and bears every Christian according to the Word of God. She has a living husband, the Lord Jesus Christ. She has living sons and daughters, all those who are washed in the Blood of the Lamb and who eat and drink His true body and blood. She is Holy Mother Church, the lady who is pictured so beautifully in Revelation 21, where St. John sees the Holy City, the New Jerusalem, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. Yes, the church, our mother, is an icon of life itself. For in the New Jerusalem, God will wipe away every tear from your eye, every pain felt at the grave of a loved one, and even the sting of death itself. Yes, I say, the church is life itself incarnate among us. For this woman bears the good news that Jesus Christ has abolished death and brought life and immortality to light. + INJ + Amen.

Rev. Brian Hamer

Redeemer Lutheran Church

Bayside, NY

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