Summary: As sermon for the 2nd Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 5, Series C
2nd Sunday after Pentecost [Pr. 5] June 6, 2010 “Series C”
Grace be unto you and peace, from God our Father and from our Lord, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Let us pray: Dear Heavenly Father, in your boundless compassion, you sent your Son, Jesus the Christ, into our world that he might reveal to us your redeeming grace. Through the power of your Holy Spirit, open our hearts and minds to trust that in all of the tribulations that we face, including death itself, that your presence will not abandon us. This we ask in Christ’s holy name. Amen.
Our Gospel lesson for this morning presents us with a rather unusual story of the compassion of Jesus. Luke tells us, that as Jesus and his disciples were entering the village of Nain, just a short distance from Nazareth, they encounter a funeral procession. Somehow, Jesus realizes that the dead man on the bier was his mother’s only son, and that she was a widow.
Even today, we can realize the extent of this woman’s grief. Not only had she buried her husband, now she was burying her only son. I can’t think of a more painful grief, than for a parent to bury a child. But in that day, this woman was also burying her future security. In that culture, women had little rights, and it was a son’s responsibility to care for and support his mother, when his father was no longer able. Widows without sons to care for them were often forced to beg for alms, just to survive.
What happens next, according to Luke, is an incredible scene. First, we are told that when Jesus realized this widow’s plight, he had compassion for her. Of course, that should not surprise us. Throughout his ministry, Jesus expressed compassion for those in need. But I believe each of us would have been surprised at how Jesus expressed his compassion, had we been a part of that crowd.
First, Jesus turns to the widow, whose only son had just died, and says, “Do not weep.” Personally, I don’t think this is an inappropriate comment to make to someone who has just lost a loved one, even if it is said to a man or woman who is burying an elderly parent. But to hear someone say “Do not weep” to a parent who is in the midst of burying a child would certainly seem out of place, if not callous.
Then Luke tells us, Jesus went up and touched the bier on which the young man’s body was being carried, and the bearers of the bier stood still. They stopped the funeral procession, no doubt looking at Jesus in wonder. Because of custom, anyone other than the bearers of a funeral bier who touched it, was considered to be made unclean, defiled. And so they stopped, wondering what might have caused Jesus to do such a thing.
And as they looked at Jesus in bewilderment, Jesus spoke – not to those carrying the body, not to the crowd, not to the mother, but to the dead man, as if he expected him to hear. He said, “Young man, I say to you rise!” Don’t you think that if we were in that crowd, that would have also gotten our attention.
Even more astonishing, the dead widow’s son heard Jesus. He actually sat up and began to speak. It’s a miracle that the bearers of the bier didn’t drop the young man to the street. Then Jesus took the young man, perhaps unwrapped him from his burial clothes, and gave him back to his mother. And Luke tells us that fear seized all of them, as it certainly would have seized me had I witnessed that event. And the people praised God for the presence of Christ among them.
I must admit, that when I first read this miraculous story of the compassion of Jesus for the widow of Nain, I experienced a lot of questions as to how I might approach this text. Being a pastor does not shield one from grief, and God knows we have had our share of grief in our congregation. We have had our share of untimely death and parents burying their children, and that grief is not easy to dispel.
As a result, this story has called to my memory several times over my tenure as your pastor, when it would have been nice to have Jesus interrupt our funeral processions and display the same compassion as he did that day at Nain. But that didn’t happen. And so we have been left to grieve the loss of our loved ones, to say goodbye to our parents, spouses and children, as we seek to console each other as members of this extended family the baptized. What happened that day in Nain is certainly not the typical thing that we expect to experience during the burial of a loved one. The dead don’t hear our voice, get up and speak.