I am privileged to be a member of Nain Lutheran in West Allis, WI. There aren’t a lot of churches that share our name, but it’s a special one. Do you remember what happened at Nain? It is one of my favorite scenes in the New Testament. Jesus couldn’t be more Jesus. So, for my first post here, I thought maybe we could walk our way through this account with Luke. It often comes to my mind when I hear my pastor preach life to me. Maybe it will come to yours, too. — Dr. Johnston
LUKE 7:11-17 Get up!
He was her only son. Perhaps he was named after her late husband. Perhaps he looked like him. Either way, this son was all she had. There was no more family, no one left to love her. He was her only son, and now his dead body, dead as dead can be, was being carried out of the town. How had he died? We’re not told, but he was dead sure enough.
She wept. Who wouldn’t? What did she have left but tears? Everyone wept. No... they wailed. That’s how they do it in the Middle East. You’ve seen it on the news: a body carried through the narrow streets of some ancient city, women beating their breasts, screaming at the top of their lungs, men lending a bevy of hands to hoist the makeshift casket high in the air for all to see—a large crowd, a sea of bodies, a trail of sobbing sorrow.
And then they saw it through their moist, weary, reddened eyes. Another group was approaching, a large group, a mob of sorts. They didn’t carry a dead man. They followed a man quite alive. A curious spectacle they were, a ragged rabble following a modest Rabbi. There was nothing special about His appearance. In fact, He looked like any laborer in the field or fisherman in the boat, but they wouldn’t forget Him after today.
It was a narrow road—it always is when you follow Him—and a surreal game of chicken ensued. The groups were bound to collide, the funeral procession bound and determined to hold their ground, and this man, for some reason, just as bound and determined to get in their way. What kind of madman disrupts a funeral procession? What kind of a man plays games with the grieving?
When He saw the mother, He felt sick. His stomach churned with sorrow. These weren’t butterflies; these were razor blades. Almost bent over in pain at the sight, thoughts of tears on His own mother’s blessed face, tears He knew were not far down this road, flashed through His mind. What a monster death is! What a toll it exacts from the living, and what a nightmare it inflicts on the dead! He was more determined than ever to kill it, to put death to death once and for all.
Some of the men in the funeral procession began to fold their fingers, not in prayer, but into fists. They’d seen enough. Funeral procession trumps a posse of paupers out for a stroll. If this Man and His followers would not surrender the road, they would take it. They eyed down those standing before them. They were ready for a fight.
He walked up to the mother, touched her pale cheek, and said, almost begging her, “Do not weep.” Was He stupid or just plain crazy? Even His disciples were starting to wonder what in the world He was thinking. How can He tell her not to weep? Everything she loved was in that box, and they were about to put it in the ground.
Then He went to the coffin. He touched it, like a carpenter sizing up the piece of wood He plans to turn into some sort of new creation, running His hand down its side. Those carrying it came to a halt. Their anger had turned to complete confusion. Everyone just stared. No one had ever seen anything like this before.
“Young man, I say to you, arise.” He didn’t shout it, like a doctor speaking to a man hard of hearing. He didn’t make a show of it, like a magician doing a trick. He almost whispered it, like a friend encouraging a friend in a fight, telling him not to quit, telling him to get up and keep at it. “Young man, I say to you, arise.”
Never had there been such silence in Israel. And then it happened. The young man listened. Out of nothing, something came forth. The young man sat up and began to speak. What did he say? No one remembered. It was too much to take in at the time. They were lost in a daze of amazement.
Jesus took the man by the arm and led him back to his mother, presenting him to her with a look that seemed to say, “I think you lost this.”
And now you're back on the scene, only this time you’re not in the procession. You’re in the coffin. You can’t hear it, but your mother wails with all who loved you. Your friends carry your rotting carcass to the grave. You are dead, dead as can be. You are the man in the coffin. Pine box or oak Cadillac, either way you’re dead.
How’d you die? You were born dead, you lived dying, and then, as if that weren’t enough, being dead, you killed yourself nonetheless. You didn’t see this coming, though. You thought you had more time. You resolved a thousand times to get your act together. But here you are.
And yet what is this? A Man, an unassuming Man, not much different in His appearance than so many whom you’ve passed on the road or sat next to in an office, blocks your way. You are dead, but you aren’t yet buried. Many wonder what is wrong with Him. Behind Him stands a cloud of witnesses, the Church on earth with the Church in heaven. He’s told them to hold their ground. This is the ultimate game of chicken.
Once again, His mind races forward to His own mother’s tears, only now He sees more. He sees His friends taking down His own dead body from the cross. He sees them carrying His corpse down a dusty Jerusalem road, no casket, limp, pale, bloody, and lifeless, to a tomb. No one interrupts them. No one dries their tears. They set him in His grave and leave. Dead and buried, He sees His passion end. Tears, almost imperceptible tears, hide in the corners of his eyes.
He dries your mother’s tears. He begs her, “Do not weep,” and rubs His calloused, carpenter hands down the side of your casket. “Young man, young woman, get up.” He does not shout. He does not need to. He doesn’t put on a show. This isn’t magic. He acts so inconspicuously most might not even notice. “Young man, young woman, get up.”
And nothing becomes something. Blood-stained wood gives birth to a new creation. There’s power in His Word. There’s life in His Blood. You are given the gift of life, not by your own hand, but entirely through Him Who died and rose from the grave three days later. You continue to receive His gift of life in the forgiveness you received in your baptism and do receive in His body and blood every week at His table. Rejoice! For you are forgiven!