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Trinity 16 – Luke 7:11-17

by pastorjuhl ~ September 19th, 2012

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit

            Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil for You are with me. These familiar words of Psalm 23 comfort us when someone dies. These words also serve as comfort as we live our lives. When King David sings about the valley of the shadow of death, he is talking about the walk from the cradle to the grave. We cannot shake death. It’s not as if we are walking through a maze hoping death will lose our trail if we make a sudden dash out of its sight. Death has X-ray vision. Death sees through all the obstacles we place in its way.

Death cannot penetrate one obstacle. That obstacle is Jesus Christ. Jesus never met a corpse that didn’t sit up or stand up on the spot. One of those meetings is in today’s Gospel. This meeting is a unique one, because Saint Luke tells us the mother of the dead man was a widow. She has suffered a double indignity. Her husband has died. Now her only son is on his way to the grave. No wonder there is a considerable crowd following the widow. She needs a double helping of comfort after suffering a second loss in her immediate family.

The first thing Jesus tells the widow is Do not weep. If anyone except Jesus says this, then it is one of the gravest errors of courtesy that is given to a survivor of a dead son, let alone a dead husband. Weeping is a natural part of the grieving process. The grief over losing a child, whom a mother brought into the world and raised as her son, must play itself out. Holding back grief, hiding grief behind a stiff upper lip, could lead to depression, anxiety, and other unhealthy emotional problems.

Do not weep is a sentence of pure Gospel, but to our ears it is insensitive. Only a fool would want to inhibit the grieving process. Jesus is no fool, though you can’t convince those who oppose Him. What is worse, Jesus came up and touched the bier, and the bearers stood still. It is nothing today for us to touch a casket. It is nothing today for us even to touch the cold, lifeless, embalmed body in the casket. Soon it will be hermetically sealed and placed in a vault in a cemetery. It’s safe to touch a body as well as the casket.

It is not safe to touch a casket, a bier, in our Lord’s day. The body is unclean. The bier carrying the body may also be unclean. Jesus commits another funeral faux pas. Will this Man never learn to honor the dead and his family? What is He going to do, raise the body?

Yes, He will raise the body. He brings a funeral procession to an abrupt halt. The raising of the widow of Nain’s only son shows exactly what kind of Jesus He is. Jesus is a Jesus Who raises the dead, breaking every fashionable tradition along the way.

The Jesus seen and heard in Luke chapter seven is one for us to ponder today. Let’s hearken back to the words of King David in Psalm 23, Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil for You are with me. At first glance, these words sound foolish. Death is supposed to bring fear. We don’t know what is on “the other side.” Sure, there are plenty of books sold these days about what heaven is like or about someone who has “come back” from “the other side.” Please be careful when you read these sorts of books. What often looks like an angelic portrait of future glory might very well be a portrait painted by the prince of darkness who seeks to take that future glory away from us, bringing fear and sadness in its place.

Walking through the valley of the shadow of death is no easy walk. The burden is made light when we believe the Good Shepherd walks with us. Saint Paul describes light burden of walking through the valley of the shadow of death this way in 2 Corinthians chapter four: Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.

Did you catch the phrase light momentary affliction? Perhaps that’s not the first phrase that comes to your mind to describe life under the cross of Jesus. The outer self wasting away, yes, that’s obvious. The inner self being renewed day by day? Sure, we can deal with that because we believe that Christ dwells among us. But light momentary affliction? Is Saint Paul crazy?

Saint Paul is quite sane. Listen again how Jesus handles death. He said, “Young man, I say to you, arise.” And the dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother. The healing of the widow’s son at Nain is how Judgment Day will be for those asleep in Jesus. Death for a Christian is a light momentary affliction. Jesus will return to speak your name and command you to rise from your grave. That’s exactly what you’ll do. You will rise from the grave just as the widow’s son rose from the grave.

Too good to be true? No, it is true because Holy Scripture says it is true. Listen again to Saint Paul, this time from 1 Thessalonians chapter four: 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. 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. Therefore encourage one another with these words.

Encourage one another with these words. There is some dandy encouragement from both Saint Paul and Jesus Christ today. Jesus stops death cold in its tracks. He stops death in its tracks by dying and rising from the grave triumphant over death and sin. We know that the wages of sin is death. The ultimate penalty for sin is death. Jesus paid that ultimate penalty in our place by shedding His blood as the all-sufficient payment for our sin. He spends three days in the tomb before bursting forth triumphant over the grave. As we sing in the Communion hymn “At the Lamb’s High Feast We Sing”:

Now no more can death appall,
Now no more the grave enthrall;
You have opened paradise,
And Your saints in You shall rise.

            God has visited His people. The words of those who witnessed this miracle continue the theme of visitation in Luke’s Gospel. You may recall Mary, the Mother of God, saying these same words in her hymn of praise. Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for He has visited His people and has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of His servant David. God visits His people in the person of His Son Jesus Christ. His visitation brings joy to all people, for by His death He has destroyed death and by His rising to life He has restored to us everlasting life. He visits us again today in His Gifts, delivering forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation.

There is joy in comprehending the incomprehensible. The breadth and length and height and depth of the love of Christ cannot be understood. It is only believed, even though we were not there at Nain. If Christ so raises the dead, even your dead body on Judgment Day, what more could He do for those who ask Him? God has visited His people, bringing eternity in the midst of walking through the valley of the shadow of death.

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit

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