Life Faces Down Death
Monday of Pentecost 3
6 June 2016
Life faces down death (Lk 7:11-17). Jesus, with joyous followers in tow, heads toward a town that demarks the borderlands between life and death. The town of Nain is a pleasant place; a kind of last stop before the pious Jewish traveler enters into the decadent and decayed region of Samaria, famous for its anti-religion, a religion in competition with the God who revealed Himself in the temple on Mount Zion. It is the borderland between life and death, between true and false, between lost and found. It is a quiet place in the hill country of Galilee; a town whose name means "Charming."

Today, the name seems a mockery as a widow follows the funeral bier of her only son out of the place called Charming to a cemetery beyond the city gate; known for its noxious fumes, faintly smelling of death and decay, a place where those for whom life was no longer charming were laid to rest. The body has in tow those who cry out the lamentations of death.

Jesus is traveling from Capernaum where He had given life to the centurion's servant, healing him, though such a lavish gift. Jesus is on a grand tour traveling the highways of Galilee seeking and saving the lost, gathering up sinners into His arms and embracing them, intruding into the decayed messiness of life, approaching the lepers, and dashing in where more holy people would turn away, fleeing from the filth of humanity, hoping (of course wrongly) to avoid contamination.

Jesus resolutely approaches such contamination to overwhelm it with His own holy person, swallowing up human filth. Where Jesus is present human filth may not remain. Where He speaks His word the devil's noxious breath must flee. Where He cleanses the sloughing and seeping skin of the leper, it is returned to baby softness. Where the sweet incense of His presence infuses the air, the vapors of death and decay must evaporate.

The progress of his grand tour collides with the funeral cort├Ęge as it wends its way through the city gate, trying to cast death out of the places of human habitation. That collision causes a palpable shock to shiver through those who are following the young man's remains to the place of their final rest. Jesus and the crowd following in His life faces down the crowd following after death.

Rev. Dr. Scott R. Murray
Memorial Lutheran Church

Gregory of Nyssa

"The Scripture tells us of a city called Nain in Judea where a widow had an only child, no longer a child in the sense of being among boys, but already passing from childhood to manhood. The narrative calls him 'a young man' (Lk 7:14).The story conveys much in few words: the very recital is a real lamentation. The dead man's mother, it says, 'was a widow.' See you the weight of her misfortune, how the text briefly sets out the tragedy of her suffering? What does the phrase mean? It means she had no more hope of bearing sons, to cure the loss she had just sustained in him who had departed; for the woman was a widow. She did not have it in her power to look to another instead of to him who was gone; for he was her only child. How great a grief is here expressed anyone may easily see who is not an utter stranger to natural feeling. The young man alone she had known in trial. Him alone she had nursed at her breast; he alone made her table cheerful, he alone was the cause of brightness in her home, in play, in work, in learning, in joy, at processions, at sports, and at gatherings of youth. He alone was all that is sweet and precious in a mother's eyes. Now at the age of marriage, he was the stock of her race, the shoot of its succession, and the staff of her old age.

"Moreover, even the additional detail of his time of life is another cause for lamentation. For he who speaks of him as 'a young man' tells of the flower of his faded beauty, speaks of him as just covering his face with down, not yet with a full thick beard, but still bright with the beauty of his cheeks. What then, do you think were his mother's sorrows for him? How her heart would be consumed as if by fire! How bitterly would she prolong her tears over him, embracing the corpse as it lay before her, lengthening out her mourning for him as long as possible, so as not to hasten the funeral of the dead, but to have her fill of sorrow! Nor does the narrative bypass. 'When the Lord saw her, he had compassion on her and said to her, "Do not weep.' Then he came up and touched the bier, and the bearers stood still' (Lk 7:13-14). He said, 'Young man, I say to you, arise' (Lk 7:14),' 'gave him to his mother.' Observe that no short time had intervened since the dead man had entered upon that state, he was all but laid in the tomb; the miracle wrought by the Lord is greater, though the command is the same.

Gregory of Nyssa, On the Making of Man, 25.10
Luke 7:11-17

Soon afterward he went to a town called Nain, and his disciples and a great crowd went with him. As he drew near to the gate of the town, behold, a man who had died was being carried out, the only son of his mother, and she was a widow, and a considerable crowd from the town was with her. And when the Lord saw her, he had compassion on her and said to her, "Do not weep." Then he came up and touched the bier, and the bearers stood still. And he said, "Young man, I say to you, arise." And the dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother. Fear seized them all, and they glorified God, saying, "A great prophet has arisen among us!" and "God has visited his people!" And this report about him spread through the whole of Judea and all the surrounding country. (ESV)
O Lord, our God, You kill and make alive, You chasten, and You heal. By our sins we have deserved only punishment and death, but now confirm the Word that You have spoken to us by Your Son and by the breath of the Spirit raise Your servants through the gospel, that we may live and serve You in both body and soul, through the same Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.

For Michael Golchert, who will be undergoing medical testing, that the Lord would bring him the healing that he needs

For Jane Schoen, who is suffering from vertigo, that she would strengthened and upheld in every physical need

For Gene Oesch, who suffered a stroke, that he would be granted a full recovery from the God of all compassion
Art: Cranach, Lucas the Younger The Raising of the Young Man of Nain (1569)
Memorial Lutheran Church, 5800 Westheimer Rd., Houston, TX 77057
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