Death and Life meet at Nain. The boy is carried off in fulfillment of the Genesis curse: ashes to ashes, dust to dust. To be sure, it’s a tragic scene, and one the mother knows too well. She was a widow, so she has walked this path before, wept behind the casket as it is carried to the cemetery. Each of us knows the pain of that walk. We have all been there, weeping in that somber procession from church to hearse, hearse to grave. We mourn family and friend, one taken away from us. But we also walk that path knowing that one day we will be the one carried. We will breathe our last, be committed to God’s acre, and await the Day of the Resurrection of the Dead. It’s not a pleasant thing to ponder. It’s a reminder that, as much as we try to avoid it, creation just doesn’t work the way it was supposed to. Gone is God’s declaration of “very good.” In its place is death and decay, sin and evil. But into this deathward drift from futile birth steps Our Lord Jesus Christ. In Him the ancient curse is reversed. He gives us the promise that one day He will say to all of us, to all who believe in Christ: “I say to you, arise!”
It is with those words of peace that Jesus interrupts a funeral procession. The only-begotten Son of the Virgin meets the only-begotten son of the widow of Nain as he is carried out of the city to be buried. As this poor widow follows in the funeral procession all of her hopes and dreams were carried out as well. In first century Palestine a childless widow was destitute. Her husband was given the charge to care for her, and when he died, she was to be taken care of by her children. But now she is not only a widow, but a childless widow. She walks a familiar path bearing the load of sorrow and fear. It is entirely likely that after this she will return home and move into a life of poverty and begging until death grips her at last. She will sound a lot like the widow of Zarephath from last week, living in scarcity, simply waiting to draw her last breath.
But then God in the Flesh shows His greatest attribute: compassion. He is moved to His very core. Imagine His emotion. He remembers that day, some four thousand years before, standing with the Father and the Holy Spirit speaking powerful words: “Let Us make man in Our image, after Our likeness.” He remembers that declaration that everything was very good. He remembers a world without sin, without death. He is sad, but He is also angry. This was not at all meant to be the common human experience, the one thing that unites all people of all times and places. But now parents bury children, children bury parents, friends bury friends. And Jesus also knows what His own mother will endure before too long—standing at the foot of His cross, watching her son endure the agony of cruel death and God-forsakenness, the sword piercing her soul as Simeon had foretold. She will walk that same road, burying her Son, not sure what is next, knowing nothing more than the grief of the moment.
So Jesus intentionally collides with this funeral procession. He isn’t like the priest and the Levite in the parable of the Good Samaritan, keeping a healthy distance from one who could have been dead. He walks right up to the casket, stares death in the face and recreates. He speaks the word and it is: “Young man, I say to you, arise!” The boy sits up, he is reunited with his mother and his family and friends. And the people know what’s going on. In fear they say, “God has visited His people!” They know they are not worthy of so great a miracle.
But as wonderful as the miracle is, it is only temporary, as are all miracles. Eventually the wine ran out at Cana’s wedding. Eventually the boy dies again. As wonderful as the boy’s resurrection is, it is temporary, and it doesn’t solve anything. Temporary earthly relief from suffering and sadness make things easier for a while, but it doesn’t change anything. What we need—what the whole world needs—is an end to the curse.
And that’s exactly what Jesus has done. He is the one who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think! He doesn’t give us temporary relief from sin and death, but gives it eternally. He received the wages of sin in our place. He tasted death, received the curse. The only innocent Man died. The Father sent Him into the world to receive sin’s wages so that, through faith in Him, we might receive the gift of eternal life.
But Christ rose from the dead—not temporarily but eternally. And because Jesus took our curse, our wages upon Himself, and because He rose from the dead, we are given a resurrection like His. Our first resurrection happened when we heard the voice of Jesus Christ in the Gospel and believed in Him by the work of the Holy Spirit. The result is the immediate forgiveness of sins, or, justification by God’s grace through faith in Christ Jesus. The curse upon our souls, God’s wrath against our sin, is gone. The curse of condemnation and the curse of eternal death in hell have been removed. This is just as Jesus promised: “He who hears My Word and believes in Him who sent Me has everlasting life, and shall not come into judgment, but has passed from death into life. Most assuredly, I say to you, the hour is coming, and now is, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God; and those who hear will live” (Jn. 5:25).
And that’s wonderful. But we know that people still die. We wait eagerly, desperately, for Jesus to return because when He does “all who are in the graves will hear His voice and come forth” (Jn. 5:28). On that day the curse that remains over our flesh will be lifted. Death will be no more when this corruptible puts on incorruption, and this mortal puts on immortality and Jesus brings to pass this saying ‘Death is swallowed up in victory.’ On the Last Day creation will be restored. No longer will sin mar everything. We will get to experience the “very good” of creation. We will understand fully what it is to be in God’s image and likeness, death no longer wreaking havoc on our world and our bodies.
Waiting is hard. But, until that day, rest in the image of the loving and compassionate Lord Jesus walking up to the grieving widow and mother, restoring life to her son as easily as speaking a word. And know that He has already done the same for you when He said to you “I Baptize you.” The ancient curse was lifted when that Word of the Gospel rang in your ears in your mother’s womb and when you were buried with Christ through Baptism into His death and resurrection. Soon enough the ancient curse will be completely destroyed and you will stand in eternal bliss with all the redeemed in the new heaven and the new earth. Your death is already defeated by Our Lord Jesus Christ, and soon it will be swallowed up in victory when He says to your body on the Last Day, “I say to you, arise.”
Why does the Pastor preach? Scripture explains that the role of preaching the Word of God is how saving faith is created: “How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in Him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!’ … So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the Word of Christ” (Romans 10:14-17). The Augsburg Confession, seeing this connection between the Preaching Office and saving faith, summarizes Scripture on the Office of the Holy Ministry in this way: “To obtain [saving, justifying] faith, God instituted the Office of Preaching, giving the Gospel and the Sacraments. Through these, as through means, He gives the Holy Spirit who produces faith, where and when He wills, in those who hear the Gospel. It teaches that we have a gracious God, not through our merit but through Christ’s merit, when we so believe” (AC V 1-3). The whole reason the Pastor preaches is so saving faith can be created, so we know that “we have a gracious God” who loves us and has saved us from our sin by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.