St. Luke 7:11-17
In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
St. Luke 7:13 When the Lord saw her He had compassion on her and said to her, “Do not weep.”
Dear fellow redeemed in Christ our Lord… In last week’s Old Testament reading we heard of the widow of Zarephath. She was the woman who trusted in God to provide for her and her son, and so she gave Elijah first dibs on her flour and oil. And the Lord kept that flour and oil from running out.
But now in today’s Old Testament reading that same widow who so faithfully took
care of Elijah loses that son to death! Now she has nothing left in the world. And listen to her bitter words: “Man of God, did you come to show me my sin by bringing death to my son?” This woman knows that the wages of sin is death. She knows that the death of her son is the result of sin in this world.
Think also about the widow in today’s Holy Gospel. She is a widow and her son dies. In those days, without a husband or a son to care for them, most women were very poor and had nothing to rely upon except the pity of others. For both of these women, death was a vivid reminder of their poverty and of their sin.
The fact is, death shows all of us our sin. When St. Paul writes that the wages of sin is death, he means that no matter how good a life you think you live, death is going to find you. In fact, death isn’t just something that comes down the road some day. Death is an enemy that is stalking you, tracking you down and seeking to take your life. And Death is the consequence and result of our sin; maybe not any particular sin, but because there is sin in this world, death thrives.
That’s why we need to watch Jesus closely today. He is nearing the little town of Nain and there is a funeral procession coming up out of the city. Jesus has compassion on this woman. His heart is moved. He has a literal gut reaction of sorrow and pity and compassion. So he steps up and touches the coffin and tells the boy to get up. And the boy gets up. He’s awake. He’s alive.
We need to understand something: For Jesus, death is nothing. It’s powerless. Death licks its chops, rejoicing that it has taken this young man from his mother, causing her sorrow and grief. Death couldn’t be happier that it has robbed a woman of her son. But then Jesus shows up. He touches the coffin and speaks, and suddenly death is running away like a puppy that’s been scolded.
And that is exactly what happened on the cross. Jesus was stuck there and Death thought it had Him. Death says, “I’ve got you now, Jesus!” But not even Death can take Jesus. Jesus must give up His Spirit, He must allow Death to have Him. But then on Easter, Death is defeated and thrown down! Like a mighty wrestler who sends his opponent crashing to the mat, Jesus lays the smack-down on Death! Death is rendered powerless, ineffectual, weak, silly – a thing to be despised and laughed at!
That, dear friends, is Jesus, who takes our sin upon Himself and then leaves our sins and Death in his empty tomb like so many old burial rags! It is that Jesus who steps up, and with a touch and a Word, He runs Death off and gives life to a young man again.
Death is stalking us. It’s stalking you. Death doesn’t always mean the time when you die. Sure, you might die today or tomorrow or years from now. But the actual dying isn’t everything death has to hurt you with. Death creeps backward in your life and shows you your sins. Often times, the sins we commit kill us. I don’t mean literally, though that’s surely possible. I mean that Death comes into our lives and kills and ruins whatever it touches.
For example: By the sins of selfishness and anger, Death comes into a marriage and kills it, leaving that marriage a lifeless husk where there seems to be no more love and nothing but bad feelings and regrets. Or we fight and argue with our children until Death comes and kills that relationship, leaving us dead to our children or us dead to them, leaving nothing but emptiness and sadness.
Death comes to us in physical ways, too. Sometimes directly for our sins: too many drugs or too much alcohol brings us a slow death of disease. Or sometimes death stalks us when we didn’t really do anything, bringing upon us some disease, some condition, some cancer that works overtime to end our lives.
But most of all, the sin with which we are born brings Death chasing after our souls, making us dead to God. This happens by our not recognizing His blessings; it happens by our not trusting Him for our good. It happens by our not confessing our sinfulness. It happens when we despise God’s Word, refuse to read it and study it, and refuse to come to the Divine Service.
Dead in body and dead in our souls. Death is all around us. It chases us. It stalks us. It influences us. It hounds us. It kills the good things in our lives and, finally, it kills us. Folks, it is because of Death that we need to cling to Christ who treats Death like it’s nothing!
What is it that makes a young man rise from the dead? The touch and Word of Christ. The same Lord who conquered Death on that first Easter is the Lord who walks up to a coffin, slaps Death in the face and gives the young man back to his mother!
The same touch of that same Christ is what slaps down Death and makes you alive again too. Beginning with the touch of Christ and the speaking of His Word in the waters of Baptism, Christ’s death and resurrection are made yours. Now you, in Christ, can leave behind the grip of Death on your soul. Your life is no longer a confirmed “kill” for Death. It’s been snatched away – so much so that even when Death does finally kill you, you will be raised again from the dead by your Savior!
But it’s not just Death that gets thrown down by Christ’s Word. The same Death that infects and sickens and kills our marriages and our relationships with our kids and brings guilt and shame because of our sins and seems to kill our very souls—that same Death is defeated by the Words of absolution that deny Death its fuel.
Indeed, as Scripture declares, the wages of sin is Death. But your sins are forgiven and paid for in Christ. Therefore Death has no ultimate power over you. The same Jesus who brings life to a widow’s son is the same Jesus who touches you on your very tongue this day with His own body and blood. That same Jesus who can walk up and slap away Death is the same Jesus who can slap away Death not only on the Last Day but now, wherever Death’s vicious tentacles can reach.
Do you think your marriage is dead and over? Do you think you are dead to your children? Do you think that you are dead to God because of your sins? The touch of Christ can and does wipe out those evil effects of death. Yes, Christ has been raised from the dead and yes, Christ raised a young man from the dead. That means Christ can also bring life to you wherever there is death. That’s what His Word and touch do. That’s the power of Christ our Savior which He gives us in His own body and blood.
Now, when that boy was raised from the dead, what did Jesus do with him? He gave him to his mother. Again, being a widow without a son was a really bad place to be. There was little hope for this woman and her future other than poverty and pity without her son to care for her. So Jesus raises him from the dead…
Christ has told you, “I say to you arise. Your sins are forgiven and Death has no hold on you.” Men, He tells you that so that you will be something for your wives. Women, He tells you that so that you will be something for your husbands. Parents, He tells you that so that you will be of use to your children; and children, He tells you that so that you will be of use to your parents.
To all of you – Christ tells you that your sins are forgiven and that death has no hold on you so that you will be of use to your Mother, the church, and for your neighbors around you in your lives. Christ slaps down Death for you so that your life will not be for your own benefit but for the benefit of others. That’s the true slap in the face to Death. Death makes us selfish, focused in on ourselves, worried about ourselves. But when Death is slapped down, defeated and made powerless, we are made able to be something for others, because we don’t have to worry about Death and its effects any more.
In today’s epistle, St. Paul says that Christ is able to do far more abundantly than we ask or think. That means His power over Death isn’t just for when we die! It means that Christ’s rule and throw-down of Death matters now, for this life – for marriages and families and relationships and sicknesses and struggles with sin. In every aspect of our life where Death tries to touch us, the power of Christ and the forgiveness of sins rescues us.
It doesn’t mean that we won’t eventually die. Unless our Lord returns before then, we surely will fall asleep in Christ. But we are to know as Christians that the Lord who treats Death like a pitiful annoyance is the Lord who promises that, baptized into Him and touched by His body and blood and Word, Death is nothing to us either.
Jesus threw down Death and rose from the dead. So take that, Death! We shall despise Death just as our Lord does, because we are in Jesus.
In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.