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From what I've heard, a New Orleans jazz funeral is an experience like no other. The brass band begins its solemn procession at the church, playing hymns like "Free as a Bird" and "Just a Closer Walk with Thee",….no improvisation, no frills. Nothing but sadness blown low and blue to the beat of a muted snare drum.
Once the procession arrives at the cemetery and after the final words are spoken and the body is lowered into the ground, the mood shifts. Brightly decorated umbrellas burst open, the snare drummer removes his mute, and the funeral procession heads back into town to the rousing strains of "Didn't He Ramble?" and "When the Saints Go Marching In."…… Folks who heard the somber hymns earlier in the day wait for the procession's return...because they know a celebration's coming...and no one in New Orleans wants to miss the funeral celebration. (Pause)
When the procession left the widow's home in the town of Nain that day, her son's body lying in the casket, she wasn't planning for a celebration. No one was. Her only child was dead. What appears to be her last living male relative is gone. Not only was she without the consolation of family, she was also likely without any means of support. There was no expectation, no hope of celebration for the woman or the entourage that followed her. They mourned, they wailed and they made their way slowly towards the cemetery outside of town.
As it emerges from the city gate, the funeral procession meets another entourage entering the city. A man leaves that crowd and approaches the mother. He looks at her and says, "Do not weep." If the crowd hadn't hushed before that, I'm sure it does when the man touches the casket on which the woman's son lies. When he bids the dead man rise….. and he does…. the text doesn't say so, but I'm guessing that more than one or two jaws dropped.
Once the shock wears off, though, I’ll guess it was almost like that New Orleans precession and the celebration began. They probably cut loose with some singing, maybe even some ancient version of improvised lyrics, who knows? "A great prophet has risen among us!" they sing. "God has looked favorably on his people!" (Pause)
Participants in jazz funerals expect the afternoon celebration after hearing the morning's dirge. But this mother, and certainly not her son or no one in that crowd of mourners in Nain, could have imagined that by day's end their funeral procession would become a street party. But it did.
And you know? That's great. The woman loses her son; she loses her husband. It's great that her son comes back to life. It's great that she's likely saved from living on the streets. It's great that the crowd rejoices and glorifies God...and that the celebration is heard all across the countryside, from Nain, throughout Galilee, and even on down to Judea. It' was just….. great. (PAUSE)
But there's one thing about this text that is troubling or at least a little annoying.
Jesus heals a lot of people in the Gospel of Luke. A woman approaches him at a dinner party and pours perfume on his feet. Another woman battles through a crowd to touch the hem of his garment. Just before today's story, a centurion sends word through his friends that his servant is ill. "Just give the word," the man says, "and I know he'll be healed." Jesus
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