Second Sunday after Pentecost
June 6, 2010
“Jesus Ruins a Perfectly Good Funeral” (Luke 7:11-17)
I love a good funeral. Yes, you heard me right. I said, I love a good funeral. And I’m not alone. If you ask most pastors, they’d probably tell you the same thing. I remember being at a pastors’ conference some years ago, and the presenter asked the men which they preferred, doing weddings or funerals. For weddings, a few hands went up. But for funerals, the vast majority of hands went up. Like me, most pastors, at least in our church body, love a good funeral.
Why is that? Several reasons, probably. At a funeral, more so than at a wedding, you’re dealing with people who are actually paying attention. And at a funeral, you’re more likely to have people who know what it is to be in church. But I think really the biggest reason is that our Lutheran funeral service is so rich in gospel content. And it’s such a great opportunity to preach the gospel, as people there are acutely aware of the reality of death staring them in the face. A dead body is a powerful preaching of the law, and so people’s ears may be open at that time to hear the sweet message of the gospel. So I think a good, Christian, Lutheran funeral service is a beautiful thing. I love a good funeral.
Now don’t get me wrong. It’s not like I’m eager to do a funeral service here in the near future. No, I’m sure we won’t have a funeral here for a very long time. Well, although, you never know, it could happen. And assuming I’m not the next one due up, I’m sure I’ll be doing one here at some point.
But for those of us pastors who enjoy doing funerals, there can be one complicating factor that will disrupt your plans. That’s when Jesus shows up. Leave it to Jesus to ruin a perfectly good funeral! That’s what he does, isn’t it, in our Gospel reading for today, from Luke chapter 7, the story of the raising of the widow’s son. “Jesus Ruins a Perfectly Good Funeral.”
Here’s the situation. Jesus and his disciples are entering the town of Nain. But as they are going in, there is another procession going out. It’s a funeral procession, the funeral of a young man from that town. Sad story, really. The young man was the only son of his mother, and she a widow, at that. Lots of grief, as you might imagine. But this is the funeral, and they’re doing it up right, carrying the body out on a bier, as was the custom, out to the graveyard for burial. It’s a good and decent funeral, with a good size crowd walking along to show support for the grieving mother.
But now here come Jesus and his men, coming into town, and they see this funeral procession going out. Jesus’ heart goes out to the mother. He can assess the situation in an instant. He has compassion on her, his heart is deeply moved, and he goes up to her and says, “Do not weep.”
Well, Jesus, you must not have had “Pastor as Counselor” at the seminary! “Do not weep”? You’re not supposed to say that! No, you’re interfering with the grieving process. You’re supposed to let the bereaved go with their feelings, express them, not stifle them. You don’t say, “Do not weep”!
So already Jesus is interfering with the funeral. But then what he does next is really strange. He goes up to the bier, touches it, stops the pallbearers right in their tracks, and then he says, “Young man, I say to you, arise.”
Oh, Jesus, now you’re being cruel! Playing with people’s emotions like that. Or maybe you’re just mad, delusional, thinking you can speak to dead bodies and expect them to get up. But, strange as it may sound, that’s exactly what happens! The young man does arise! “And the dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother.” Astounding! “The dead man sat up and began to speak”!
Way to go, Jesus! Way to ruin a perfectly good funeral! Here everybody was in the proper mood, grief-stricken and such. They rented a nice funeral bier. They got the gravesite all ready. They lined up the pallbearers–people took off work, for goodness’ sake! And here you go and ruin it all! Who do you think you are?
Good question, isn’t it? Who is this man Jesus? Very strange fellow. And this is not the only time he does this, disrupting funerals like this. There was that incident with the little girl, twelve years old–Jairus’s daughter, as I recall. All laid out, nice and proper. Lots of mourners on hand. Jesus shoos them all out. Goes in by the body, and says to the lifeless child, “Talitha, cumi!” “Little girl, arise!”
But, oh, you ain’t seen nothing yet! Wait till you get to Bethany, and the tomb of the dead man Lazarus. This guy was already in the tomb, wrapped up, even, with the grave-clothes. And here comes Jesus, with a loud voice saying, “Lazarus, come forth!” And, shades of the Mummy, Lazarus does come forth, only he’s alive!
There’s something about this Jesus fellow. He tells dead bodies “Arise!” “Come forth!” and they do! His voice–what is it about his words? They are–I don’t know how else to put it–his words are life-giving, powerful! And they disrupt funerals, real bad, turning the deceased into the alive, turning mourners into happy folk, but causing funeral directors to have to give a lot of refunds.
You think he’s got some of those words for you? I think so. Oh, maybe not right away, at your funeral, or at the funeral of your loved one. But he does have words for you. And you will hear them, I guarantee you. At the Last Day, when Christ returns, he will have a word for you. It will be the great big “Arise!” which he will speak to all those he calls to life, everlasting life, on that day. Think of all the cemeteries that are going to be ruined! Tombstones, shattered. Mausoleums, crumbled and broken wide open.
You see, Jesus even ruined his own funeral. That Sunday morning, the women going to the tomb to anoint his body. Only, when they get there–no body! No dead body, at least. They do see his body, they do meet Jesus, but he is very much alive. Very much!
And this is why I can say that Jesus will have that life-giving word for you. There is an “Arise!” in your future. Let me explain.
You see, there really is no such thing as a “good” funeral. Funerals were not meant to be. Death is an alien intruder. Men and women were not meant to die. Death came in as the result of the worst mess-up that we ever did. That’s when we thought we knew better than our Creator, the God who made us and gave us these bodies and breathed life into our souls. But we wanted to be our own god, strike off on our own, make our own decisions about right and wrong. And so we tuned out God and his word. Did our own thing. And that thing is called sin. We all do it, each of us does, in a hundred ways. I live like I’m my own moral determiner–and so do you. I live to serve and satisfy myself–and so do you. I want to be free from God, pretend that he’s not there–and so do you. We hurt one another, fellow creatures of the same heavenly Father, we hurt one another with our words and our actions and our lazy, loveless inactions–we all do this sort of thing, each one of us.
And this sin brought the curse of death upon our heads. We’re all born dying. Like the young man at Nain. Like Jairus’s daughter. Like Lazarus of Bethany. Dead men walking, even before we’re laid in the ground. That’s you, that’s me.
But there’s one man who doesn’t deserve to die. His name is Jesus. No sin, none, did he ever commit. No good thing did he ever omit. He helps this poor widow. He raises this young man to life. This is the kind of thing he does, the kind thing, the loving thing, the righteous thing.
And yet he is condemned and killed as an unrighteous man. Crucified, like a common criminal. But in truth, the shame he bore is our shame. The death he died, he died for us, in our place, that we would not die forever. His holy blood purchases our redemption, the forgiveness of our sins. If the Son of God dies for you, that is really a lot of forgiveness, enough to cover the whole world! It’s enough to overcome death and empty out the graves. That’s what Jesus shows us on Easter morning, when he himself rises from the dead. That’s what Jesus previews, here in our text today, when he raises the young man of Nain. Jesus is in the life-restoration business.
Jesus does works that no one else can do, like raising the dead, works that show he comes from God. Who does this Jesus think he is? He knows who he is–the very Son of God come from heaven! He comes and shows the blessings that his coming will accomplish! Life! Resurrection from the dead! Jesus is the funeral disruptor, par excellence! He gives life, simply by speaking the word, because he himself is the source of life.
Jesus has words for you, my friend, yes he does. He tells you these words even now: “Your sins are forgiven you.” “I have come that you may have life, life in abundance.” “This is my body, this is my blood, given and shed for you.” “Peace I give to you, my peace I leave with you.” “I will come and take you to myself, that you may be where I am.” Jesus has these words for you even now, words you can count on and live from.
And finally, at the Last Day, this same Jesus will have another word for you. It will be his great and ultimate “Arise!” And your body will get up, up out of that grave, new and glorious, no more subject to death. And you too will begin to speak, speaking words of praise and thanksgiving to your Savior, Jesus Christ, who won for you your eternal salvation!
And so I suppose, in the end, there really is such a thing as a “perfectly good funeral.” For the funeral services we have now are soaked with life, saturated with the promises of God, full of the firm faith that God gives us–faith in our Lord who specializes in ruining funerals! I love it!