Monday, September 21, 2015
Homily for The Sixteenth Sunday after Trinity (Trinity 16)
Luke 7:11-17; Ephesians 3:13-21; 1 Kings 17:17-24
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
The scene is descriptive. You can picture it in your mind with supreme clarity. A funeral procession is winding down the hillside away from the walled city on a hill. Men are carrying the body of a young man upon a bier. A great crowd follows, wailing in grief and sorrow because a young man is dead and a young mother is widowed and childless. No one can do anything to change the situation. No one can offer any real comfort. It is an utter tragedy, senseless and inexplicable. But it is real. It is all too real.
But, by chance, there was another procession that day, one approaching the walled city on a hill. In this procession, no one is wailing in grief and sorrow and no one is dead. In fact, the great crowd was dancing and skipping and shouting out in joy and laughter, and the one leading the procession is the Lord of Life Himself, Jesus. The great crowd accompanying Jesus had heard his teaching in the Sermon on the Mount and had followed Him through the region of Capernaum as he healed the sick and cast out evil spirits. They had witnessed Jesus’ power and authority in releasing all manner of men from their captivity to sin and death. Now they would witness Jesus’ power and authority over death itself.
Jesus’ saw the grieving mother from a distance and He had compassion for her. You must understand that He did not simply feel bad for her, but He was filled with gut-wrenching compassion for her in her lostness and the real and necessary wages of sin, death, that had been paid out to her young son and her husband before him. Jesus said to her, “Do not weep,” for the weeping, the grief and the sorrow, would be borne by Him. And then He reached out and touched the bier, for the uncleanness of sin and death would be borne by Him as well. But the real miracle was in His Word, as it always is, “Young man, I say to you, arise.” “And the dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother.”
The scene is descriptive. You can picture it in your mind with supreme clarity. Martin Luther once put it this way in his hymn Christ Lag in Todesbanden (Christ Jesus Lay In Death’s Strong Bands): It was a strange and dreadful strife when life and death contended; the victory remained with life, the reign of death was ended. Holy Scripture plainly saith that death is swallowed up by death, its sting is lost forever.
Death is all too real. In a sense, we are all part of that funeral procession winding down the hillside away from the Garden of Eden. There the poisonous venom of sin first entered our First Parent’s veins. Now it flows through the veins of all of us who live and breathe and die. That day it was a young man who received his wage in death, tomorrow it is an old man, the day after a wife and mother, and the day after that a newborn child. But, the young man that day represented the best of us, alive in health and vigor of youth, all the world open to us and ripe with potential and possibility. But he was taken by death, the inarguable due wage we all earn for sin. If that young man cannot escape death, then what hope is there for any of us?
On our own, left to our own devices, there is no hope. We are dead. Even while we live, we live each day in the knowledge that death is coming, sooner or later, at a time we cannot know. There is no hope…, until we set our eyes on Jesus. When we lift up our eyes out of this life and world of death, the trappings of worldly idolatries and corruption, when we admit that we are dead, or at least the living dead, and lift up our eyes, then we can see Jesus who has come, and who comes to us now, as the Lord of Life, our Redeemer and Savior.
Jesus has compassion, gut-wrenching compassion, on you in your grief and sorrow, your sin and death. And He does the unthinkable, the unimaginable, and the incredible – He touches your bier. He takes your sin, He takes your uncleanness, He takes your death upon and into Himself. He didn’t raise the dead boy to life until He first took from him that which caused his death. Jesus didn’t cast death away, He took it into Himself, He swallowed it up as scripture plainly saith. He drank your cup of poison for you, to the bitter dregs, so that you could live. He sucked the poisonous venom from your wounds and He became what you are, the living dead, so that you could become what He is, truly and eternally alive.
And, just as that dead young man represented the best of us, doomed to die despite how alive we believe ourselves to be, so Jesus has become the living man for all of us so that in and through Him we are alive now and we will live, even through death, forevermore. Jesus is our true Adam, in whom we are all one, who has defeated death by dying for you, His Eve, His Bride. When faced with the serpent’s temptation He overcame by the Word of God and faith. And when you were threatened by the devil, Jesus, our Second Adam, took the serpent’s bite Himself. He laid down His life in love, unto death, for you.
Life died that you might live. Life died for you, young and old and newborn. The Bridegroom died that His Bride might live. But the victory remained with life, the reign of death was ended.
The funeral procession that day was heading to the tomb, and nowhere else. There was no expectation of encountering Life; there was no hope that anything or anyone could change that hopeless situation. But, when Jesus came, incarnate in human flesh, when Jesus came as a man, that changed everything: The Son of God became the Son of Man. The highest in God’s glory divested and humbled Himself and became the lowest. He who was sinless was made to be sin for us. He who is Life became obedient to death, even death on a cross.
The great crowd that followed Him did so because they saw in Jesus power and authority over all manner of disease and evil spirits. And when Jesus met that somber funeral procession, they witnessed His authority over death itself. But His power and authority did not come simply from might or will, but Jesus had power and authority over sin and death because of His perfect and obedient fear, love, and trust in God His Father above all things and because of His perfect and obedient love for all men. Jesus bore the fruit of the Spirit which is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.
In Jesus, people began to turn from fear, hopelessness, and despair to faith in God’s promises finding their fulfillment in Jesus. And so, they followed Him, they listened to His teaching, they witnessed His miracles, they told others, and ultimately, they brought their sick and their dying, their demon-possessed loved ones, and they brought their children to Jesus that He might touch them with His holy hands and speak His life-creating Word of blessing upon them, that He might raise them spiritually, and physically, from death to His eternal life.
In a similar way most of you were brought to Jesus in Holy Baptism. And, in a similar way many of you have brought your own young sons and daughters to Jesus in Holy Baptism. There beside the still waters, through the hands and the voice of His undershepherd, Jesus touched you with His holy hands and Jesus spoke His life-creating Word of blessing upon you. In Holy Baptism the procession of death was met head-on by Jesus’ procession of life in a strange and dreadful strife, but the victory remained with life, the reign of death was ended. In Holy Baptism Jesus has touched you with His holy hands and has spoken His Life-creating Word of blessing upon you, “Young man, I say to you, arise.” And, as it was in the beginning, so it is now, His Word brings into being what He says. And then, Jesus returned you to your Mother, the Church.
Yes, we all have the same Mother, for there is one body and one Spirit – just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call – one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. We all have the same Mother, the Bride of Christ, the Church, which is one body, and of which Christ is Her Head. As the Fathers have taught us, extra ecclesiam nulla salus, there is no salvation outside of the Church. There cannot be salvation or life outside of the Church, for the Church is the body of Christ and there is no salvation outside of Him. We are saved by His humble and obedient perfect life, death, and resurrection, not merely in an external and objective way, but we are saved by being grafted into Him, born again from His death into His life, living in, to, and from Him in selfless, sacrificial love and service to our neighbor, especially those of the one body of faith, the Church. And if we would bring people to Jesus that He might touch them with His Holy Hands and bless them with His life-creating Word, then we must bring them to where He is present with His Words and His Wounds to heal and to bestow life and to bless; we must bring them to where He is present with His body as Her Head; we must bring them to Holy Baptism, we must bring them to Confession and Absolution, we must bring them to the Word of God preached, we must bring them to the Word of God confessed, we must bring them to the Word of God eaten and drunk, that is, we must bring them into Holy Communion with the Lord and Giver of Life, Jesus Christ, to whom be glory with the Father and the Holy Spirit now and forevermore.In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.