“It was a strange and dreadful strife, when life and death contended.” So wrote Dr. Luther in his great Easter Hymn. And today we see that struggle, as it played out near the ancient city of Nain.
A mother grieves, at times sobs uncontrollably, as she follows the open coffin on which lies the lifeless body of her son. And she was a widow.
Death seems so cruel at times, does it not? It storms into a person’s life, snatching a loved one away, and then departs, leaving a gap that cannot be filled. Did it care that this women had already buried her husband and only means of support? No. Death didn’t care at all about her.
But you do. You can’t help but feel terrible for this woman, because you no doubt have been a victim of death’s cold-hearted cruelty as well. The journey from church to hearse to grave is one we must all make sooner or later, if we haven’t done so already. And you don’t get “over it.” The best you can do is learn how to deal with the grief, for it does ease up over time. But it will not go away, until you’re the one being carried out of church, put into a hearse, and brought to the grave.
Such is the wages of sin, and that’s what makes death a great tragedy. It should never have happened. God created man to live in blessed communion with him forever. But Adam and Eve rebelled against God and fell into sin. Their children, conceived in the image of their Father, continue to rebel against God and sin. So they too must die.
Yet sinful man, stubborn as he is, chooses to ignore this reality. As was so painfully obvious at the funerals of Aretha Franklin and Senator John McCain, sin is not to be mentioned at all. A funeral is to be celebrations of life, we are told: not life given - we Christians celebrate that, but life lived. And so the family parades a whole host of friends and acquaintances before the mourners to talk about what a good person the deceased was. Yet should a faithful minister speak the truth - well, listen to this comment that was recently posted on YELP: “We made the mistake of using (this pastor who shall remain nameless) for my grandfather’s funeral. My grandfather was a devout Lutheran, but not a crazy person. (This pastor) said numerous times that my grandfather was a sinner and deserved to die... This is a bit much, especially for a funeral,” end quote.
Of course none of this is surprising, not really anyway. All people fear death. They know something is not right with the person who died. But when they are told what that something is, that the ultimate cause of every death is sin, they lash out in anger. For those who do not know their Savior lose whatever hope they have when confronted with this sobering truth.
But God is not a man that he should lie, and this is what he says through the pen of St. Paul, “Sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin; and in this way death came to all men, because all have sinned.” This widow’s husband died, because he was a sinner. Her son died, because he also was a sinner. Your loved ones died, because they were sinners, and eventually you will die, because you too are a sinner.
But Jesus is the Life. And it is through him that he who dies lives; which brings us back to our Gospel.
Jesus came to this dead man, who had no power to come to him. Even so, the Word, who was with God in the beginning because he is God, became flesh and dwelt among us, who have no power to do so either.
He touched the open coffin. According to OT law that made him unclean. And in the words of St. Paul, “God made Jesus, who had no sin to be sin for us.” Jesus by virtue of his Baptism became the most unclean sinner of all, as he bore the sins of the world in his own body. This he did, so that by his Sufferings and Death he might atone for them and merit for us the forgiveness of all our sins.
Then, on the third day he rose again to shatter Death’s strong chains. So while it can still claim our body, death cannot hold it forever. That we see right here. After coming up to the deceased and touching his coffin, Jesus spoke, “Young man, I say to you, Arise;” literally, “Be raised,” as no man has the power to raise himself. “So he who was dead sat up and began to speak. And (Jesus) presented him to his mother.”
Imagine the joy that overwhelmed her, as she hugged her once dead, now living son! But there will be a day when you will no longer have to imagine this. “For the hour is coming, when all who are in their graves will hear (Jesus’) voice and come forth.” Yes, as did this mother her son, so you too will be able to hug your loved ones who died in the Lord again.
That’s because you who were by nature dead in your trespasses and sins were already raised by Christ to a new life. This spiritual resurrection, which was your first resurrection, took place when Jesus spoke to you through the mouth of his minister and touched you in the Blessed Waters of Holy Baptism with his holy, precious Blood. And to keep you in this new life, your Lord, again through the mouth of his minister, speaks his Absolution to you and touches you, when he places his Body and pours his Blood into your mouth by the hand of his minister.
Therefore, be assured, dear Christian, what was a strange and dreadful strife when life and death contended on that first Good Friday and Easter, and what continues to be a strange and dreadful strife when life and death contend in God’s Service, will most definitely be a strange and dreadful strife when life and death contend one last time on Judgment Day. But, to quote Dr. Luther, “The Victory remains with life... Therefore let us joyful be and sing to God right thankfully loud songs of alleluia.”
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Sunday, September 16, 2018
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