Hold, Death, No Farther!
Tuesday of Pentecost 3
7 June 2016
The narrative of the raising of the widow's son (Lk 7:11-17) demands that we zoom into the frame in which Jesus reaches out his hand and touches the funeral bier. The bearers are stunned. They are doing their duty. The remains must be taken to the cemetery but they become unclean by shouldering death. They knew very well what the law said about what they were doing right now: "No one shall make himself unclean for the dead among his people, except for his closest relatives" (Lev 21:1-2).

What sort of man approaches death this way and chooses to touch it? Who would become unclean and risk becoming like those who were bearing the bier to the place of death? Who would think it his duty to do this, for whom it is no duty? None other than Jesus, God's only Son. This is the only way the progress of death can be stopped. Jesus must stop it. He must place His hand upon death, embrace it, and swallow it up. He must shock humanity by embracing what humanity flees. He will face down the body of this death, the very sign of human wretchedness. The bearers stand transfixed, stunned that this man stands in the way blocking their approach to the cemetery. They must do this, because they are required by the law. Jesus is related to the young man in another way. He becomes a redeeming blood relative. Here is the gospel at work. Death cannot be permitted to trudge past life. Life cries out, "Hold! No farther."

As He reaches for the bier, He takes the widow by the hand. His heart goes out to her. He is agonized by her sorrow, her loss, and the reality of her suffering. He understands the depth of her fear and the sense of despair that she feels. He knows she is sinking into a kind of living death herself; her husband gone, her only son suddenly taken from her that day. She is already slipping into the shadowlands of existence because the family ties that connect her to community have been taken from her. There is every reason for her to cry and wail in the midst of despair not just because her only son is gone, but also because as far as the community is concerned she might as well be dead too. In reaching out to her, Jesus has adopted her into a greater and larger family, one in which He is her brother, Redeemer, and protector. She cannot be left alone. He must not leave her. He will not leave her. He places his divine power at the service of His gut-wrenching compassion.

He says to her very quietly, "Don't keep on crying!" There is no need. The life is here. The cemetery is not the end. Death cannot triumph. The stench of decay is snuffed out by the scent of life. Holding the woman's hand, limp with resignation, and holding back the bier from its progress the Savior looks upon the mortal remains of this young man and says to him, "Young man, I say to you, Arise!" He is awaking him as if from sleep. His saying is doing what it promises. He is commanding the dead awake and in the command granting the fulfillment of the promise of life. The boy cannot remain dead. The boy cannot stay asleep when the Life so speaks to him. He sits up, alert and now speaking as though refreshed by sleep. Death cannot hold him when life confronts it. The bier cannot hold him in death any more than his nightly bed can keep him from awaking when his mother calls him on the wings of the morning, "My son, I say to you, Arise!" Jesus has re-forged the bonds of family and community, but only through His power over death.

Rev. Dr. Scott R. Murray
Memorial Lutheran Church

Martin Luther

"We must learn to look at the death of Christ, through which our death is destroyed. Even though it seems otherwise to our eyes, the Holy Spirit nevertheless mingles this sour vinegar with honey and sugar, that our faith may soar up to God and learn to see the dead, not lying in the grave and coffin, but in Christ. When you see Christ there, then the dead body is no longer in the coffin. Even though the carcass is foul and stinking it makes no difference. Turn your eyes and nose and all five senses away and remember what St. Paul says in the fifteenth chapter of I Corinthians (15:42-50): One buries the body in all dishonor. This is true, but don't look at that, for it will rise again in all glory. It is buried and sown as something perishable and it will rise up imperishable. It is sown in weakness and will rise in power. It is sown a natural body and will rise a spiritual body, etc. Thus he is constantly taming our hearts, because he cannot turn our eyes, away from that which the eyes see to that which God is saying and to Christ, so that we may have no doubt that he will bring us with Christ. So anyone who can believe this will have good comfort in his own death and at the death of others."

Martin Luther, Sermon at the Funeral of the Elector, Duke John of Saxony, (1532)
1 Corinthians

So is it with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable; what is raised is imperishable. It is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness; it is raised in power. It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. Thus it is written, "The first man Adam became a living being"; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit. But it is not the spiritual that is first but the natural, and then the spiritual. The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven. As was the man of dust, so also are those who are of the dust, and as is the man of heaven, so also are those who are of heaven. Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven.
 I tell you this, brothers: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. (ESV)
Lord God, teach us to look at the death of Christ, through which our death is destroyed. Give us Your sweet Word that we might not be embittered by death, that our faith may soar up to God and learn to see our dead, not lying in the grave and coffin, but in Christ. Amen.

For medical researchers, who are seeking therapies to heal disease and alleviate suffering, that they would be granted wisdom from God and success in their endeavors

For Larry Bless, that the Lord would watch over him, giving him strength and healing

For clement weather, that those who are suffering from flooding would be kept safe
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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