Preached at the Church of St John the Divine, Victoria.
Main text: Luke 7:11-17
Referenced: 1 Kings 17:8-24
For the audio recording, please see here.
Jesus is on the move. I mean – every time we hear a story about Jesus, he is somewhere else, talking to someone new, doing something different. He seems to be on the road a lot in this part of Luke’s gospel and its amazing that anyone could keep track of him, let alone follow what he was up to or know who he was in a time before texting, Facebook, or twitter.
The best bet seems to be to keep close, to follow Jesus wherever he goes to see what he might do next. And in our gospel reading this morning, they’re following him pretty closely – Jesus walked 35 kilometres down the road into the town of Nain with his disciples, we read, and a really committed “large crowd went with him”
The large crowd jostling around, pushing each other to try and get closer to Jesus…, kicking up dust from the road…, kids running in and out of legs…
Who is this man? We aren’t quite sure, but he is doing some neat things, so lets follow him… Maybe we’ll be able to find out!
But as we approach the town of Nain, Jesus comes to a stop – and all of us in the crowd have to do so as well… bumping into each other as we all try to look and see why Jesus has stopped.
Our crowd walking into town has met another procession head on, just outside the gates of the city…
Instead of the cheerful chatter and sounds of laughter that have been resonating out of our group, the large crowd we have encountered from town is wailing and crying.
It’s a funeral procession. Death is marching through the town gates and leaving a path of hardship behind.
Someone in our group recognizes the woman at the head of the procession … she is a widow, they say. A single mother with only one son. And this body being carried into the cemetery is that son.
Death. Not only has it robbed the life of a young man but also robbed the life of those who he leaves behind. As many of us know, the social structures at place here meant that with the death of her only son, this widow, this single mother, is now shuffled off to the margins of society where she is like nothing and has nothing.
Not something that we do today, now is it? Or is it?
With the loss of a family member, those left behind struggle to find their place in a world that has undeniably shifted.
With the loss of a job, there is struggle for rediscovery of identity and reformation of relationships – let alone struggle for survival.
With the loss of a home comes shame and blame and guilt and all of the struggles of finding a new place in a hot housing market.
We don’t have to look any further than our parking lot or the once-empty grassy space six blocks down Quadra Street [reference: see this or this, amongst other things] to see what happens to those our society shuffles to the side when they cannot fit within the artificially created social structures that govern things.
It is too easy to think that we have nothing in common with each other: with those who live in tents or with the widow in Nain who has just lost her only son.
Loss. Change. It is all around and can bring us to tears. We wonder where God is in the midst of it all. We might even wonder if we are forgotten.
And then we encounter Jesus on the road out of town to the cemetery. I am not sure that those in the funeral procession knew it was Jesus. Or if they did know him, if they knew who he really was.
But that did not matter – Because Jesus sees them.
He SAW the widow – knew her situation – and was moved with compassion.
I’m not talking the kind of compassion that is tinged with pity or with some sort of patronizing “poor you” sentiment.
I’m talking about the kind of compassion that reaches down into your gut and stirs things up so that it is uncomfortable. The kind of compassion that compels you to do something.
Jesus is stirred so deeply by the brokenness of this widow and her unjust banishment to the sidelines of society that he moves towards her to act on his compassion.
As he moves towards the funeral procession and stretches his hand out towards the bier that the body lay on, I wonder if those in either of the crowds recollected a story they’d heard before about the prophet of God who’d lived generations earlier. The prophet of God we heard about this morning who brought a boy, the only son of a widow, back to life by laying on him three times and breathing the life-giving breath of God back into the boy’s lungs.
I wonder if they remembered that story and looked with hope at Jesus.
If they were expecting to see something similar where Jesus stopped the procession and laid himself out overtop of the dead boy, then I’m sure that they were disappointed.
All Jesus did was reach out and touch the funeral bier and spoke to the young man.
A simple action: reaching out and acknowledging him and the situation of those around him.
And with Jesus’ simple action, the young man’s breath, his life, came back into him and he sat up.
No, if the crowds were looking for fireworks and the supernatural like they had seen with Elijah, then I am sure they were disappointed. However if they were looking for resurrection, they experienced it.
Yes there was the resurrection of the boy, the only son of the widow, that that was in and of itself a spectacular event.
But there was also another, perhaps more subtle resurrection.
If resurrection is revitalization, bringing life back into something, or causing something that had been sidelined and forgotten to exist again, then surely the widow was resurrected as well.
With Jesus’ action and acknowledgement, she was restored into community – brought back from the margins and given new life. And perhaps the community was resurrected as well as they saw the injustice of their structures challenged and they found a model for how they ought to react: seeing, being moved by compassion, and acting.
Perhaps that is the biggest miracle here: that God is alive and active in and through us. God has compassion for each and every one of us and is the one who is moving in the world around us. God is living and God is active.
Because resurrection is not some one-time event that happened on Easter Sunday some two thousand years ago for us to commemorate each year. It is not a means of escape whereby we can leave this world behind and go some place where it is all sorted out.
Resurrection is ongoing in our lives as God is abiding in and through us. We are invited to practice and bring resurrection into each corner of our lives through following the model of Jesus: seeing, being moved by compassion, and acting.
And it is an ongoing practice because, in reality, it is a lot easier to deny the resurrection than it is to affirm it.
Every time I participate in systems of injustice, I am denying the resurrection.
Every time I walk by a person on the street who is experiencing homelessness and ignore their humanity, I am denying the resurrection.
Every time I let my white privilege get me one step ahead of everyone else, I am denying the resurrection.
Once and awhile I actually affirm the resurrection by living it.
By actually seeing the people that God brings across my path.
By allowing myself to see and feel and be moved with compassion.
By loving those around me and acting out of my compassion.
And so I’m not asking you to believe or not believe in people rising from the dead – I am asking you to believe and live the greater miracle: the life-giving resurrection power of God. I am asking you to consider whether wholeness is being restored around and through us, whether resurrection is affirmed, and whether Jesus is proclaimed.
Wholeness is restored, resurrection is affirmed, and Jesus is proclaimed.
Let it be, amen.