Summary: A sermon for the 2nd Sunday After Pentecost, Proper 5, Series C.

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2nd Sunday after Pentecost (Pr. 5)

June 10, 2007, “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 we face, including death itself, that your presence will not abandon us. This we ask, in Christ’s holy name. Amen.

This morning, our Gospel lesson confronts us with a picture of life that most of us would rather not think about. Yet each of us, if we haven’t already, will join the people in this scene, as we bury a loved one. Even though our modern day practices of burying the dead have changed quite a bit, especially over the past fifty years or so, death is a part of life. Our life here on earth is finite.

I’m old enough to remember that when my Grandmother, my father’s mother, died, the open casket with her body sat in the living room of her home, where the family gathered to console each other and receive condolences from friends and neighbors. It was the custom at that time.

When the funeral service began, her house was packed. Since I was only about seven or eight at the time, I, along with several of my cousins, sat on the steps leading to the second floor. It gave us a great view of the proceedings, which we had never witnessed before. And I still remember each of us shedding tears, as we saw our fathers cry as the casket was closed and they carried it out to the hearse for the trip to the cemetery.

Today, our funeral practices tend to isolate us more from the reality of death. A mortician picks up the body, prepares it for viewing, and the family and friends go to the funeral home to console one another. Thus, we avoid those lasting images of picturing our loved one in a casket, next to her rocking chair, where she once sat and held you. And in many cases, the family chooses not to process to the cemetery, avoiding that final vision of the body being interred.

But in Jesus’ day, the burial customs were more primitive and personal. As Christopher Milarch states in his commentary, most likely, this young man had died that day, or the night before. There was no embalming, so burials took place within twenty-four hours of death. A few women, usually relatives of the deceased, would wash the body, anoint it with spices and ointments, and wrap it in strips of linen. Then the body was placed on a wooden stretcher, or bier, and loosely covered with a shroud.

The funeral procession was important. It would begin at the home of the deceased, proceed through the village, and end at the cemetery, which was always outside the city. If the family could afford it, they hired professional mourners who played dirges, shouted great laments, and wept loudly. They believed that a big commotion honored the dead, and was an appropriate expression of grief. Along the way, the procession would pick up steam. The weeping and wailing would get louder, as other villagers joined in the procession as it passed by.

Isn’t this a contrast to our funerals today in North America? Rather than weeping and wailing, we try to hold in our grief. How often we have heard persons say at funerals, “I think I’m handling this well,” by which they mean, “I’m not crying too much.” [1]

Luke tells us, that as Jesus and his disciples were entering the village of Nain, just a short distance from Nazareth, they encounter this 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 also buried her husband, now she was burring her only son. I can’t think of a more painful grief, than to bury a child. But in that day, she was also burying her future security. For 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, in order to survive.

What happens next, according to Luke, is an incredible scene. First, we are told that when Jesus saw this widow, and realized her plight, he had compassion on her. Of course, that should not surprise us. Throughout his ministry, Jesus expressed compassion for those in need. But what he does next, if we had been among that crowd, would totally leave us in awe.

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