[Luke 7:11-17] Soon afterward [Jesus] 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.
Getting Them Back
I don’t know, in New York traffic, what percentage of drivers stop for a funeral procession. Though I could take an educated guess. (It might be a low number.) Nevertheless, in theory, when you’re one of the ones grieving, that funeral line is a blessing. You have a crowd. You’re not going on your own. You don’t have to watch every turn so closely. You’re being guided along.
If you’ve ever been the bereaved, hopefully you’ve experienced the fullness of all those things that go on around you that are meant to help. Family or friends bringing meals. Sympathy letters in the mail. The funeral home and all the work they do to make things happen. Your congregation and the prayers offered. Visits and phone calls. Also, a sufficient crowd at the funeral and graveside services.
Sometimes all this happens. Other times it doesn’t. Yet, even when it does – even when all that crowd around you does all they can – as much as that may help – they still can’t do for you the one thing you really want. They can’t give your deceased loved one back to you. They can’t even give you one more minute with that person. What you really want, they cannot give.
The dear woman in our Gospel reading this morning had a good-sized funeral procession leading her out of town to the grave site. The Lord does stop for her.
Towns then were often closed in, secured in some way. You went in and out through the gates. As Jesus and His disciples are nearing the gates from the outside, this woman and the crowd around her are heading out through the gates.
The woman is a widow – husband deceased – and pallbearers are carrying her one-and-only son, dead, on what is called a “bier” (pronounced like ‘beer’) – which was essentially a stretcher. Her son is lying on top wrapped in linens.
The crowd processing out with this woman is called a “considerable crowd” – from the Greek you might call this a sufficient crowd. In a good way, this crowd is sufficient. This woman has all the support she could rightly expect from her community on this tragic day.
Maybe this crowd will stick with her for the days to come. Or, maybe she’ll be quickly forgotten. But no matter what they do – no matter how good they may be to her – even the most sufficient crowd is still insufficient for what she really needs. She needs her son back. He’s dead. She wants him back. The crowd cannot do that for her.
But this is exactly what Jesus, the Son of God – God who has become man for us – can do. And so He does. Jesus gives him back.
“When the Lord saw her – when He saw the grieving mother and widow – He had compassion on her – the word means gut-wrenching compassion, the kind you can feel in your stomach – and He said to her, ‘Do not weep.’ Then He came up and touched the bier, and the bearers stood still. And He said – He spoke to the dead man – ‘Young man, I say to you, arise.’ And the dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother.”
Jesus gave him back. The voice of Jesus penetrates the dead ears and gives life. “Do not marvel at this, for an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear His voice and come out” [John 5:28-29].
The Lord has always been raising the dead. He raised the widow’s son in Zarephath [1 Kings 17:17-24] when Elijah called upon His name. Jesus raised Jairus’ daughter from death [Luke 8:40-56] when Jairus called upon His name. Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead when Lazarus had been buried four days [John 11:1-44]. And Jesus raised this widow’s son. She got him back.
It’s noteworthy that in today’s Gospel, it doesn’t say, “Jesus had compassion on the deceased man” – though certainly He did – but it says, “Jesus had compassion on her”, on the mother. “When the Lord saw her, He had compassion on her…” and then He said to the dead man, “Arise”. In the same way, Jesus does not ignore your grief.
The resurrection of our bodies is the answer to our anxieties about death – ours and that of others. Jesus’ own death and resurrection is the answer to our grave.
On my own, death would hold me forever. When Jesus died, death could not hold Him. Instead, the bonds of death were burst apart by His resurrection. Death and the grave now lie broken open forever. Upon His return, the voice of the Son of God will awaken our bodies and we will exit.
We fear physical death and the grave and the failing of our bodies. Yet, there is an even worse death, the threat of which is much more imminent. Death comes from sin. There is physical death and there is spiritual death. Our sins are killing us daily, even as we live. There is resurrection unto eternal life and resurrection unto judgment [John 5:29,24].
Our own sin – our sinfulness, our sinful hearts and minds – along with the wrong we do and the good we fail to do – these kill us daily.
Just as I cannot dig my own way out of the grave, I also cannot free myself from my sinful condition. I need – and have – a Savior. Jesus, God’s Son, suffered both your physical death and your spiritual death - in your place - in His agony of both body and soul on the cross.
Just as Jesus spoke to the dead man in today’s Gospel, and His voice raised the man to life, so Jesus speaks His Word to you and raises you from the death of sin. He speaks to your spiritually dead ears, “I forgive you”. This powerful word of the Gospel raises your soul back to life daily.
“Truly, truly, I say to you, an hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live” [John 5:25]. Jesus, every day, has the power to raise the dead. To return you to Himself. And to return to Himself, and to you, those estranged because of sin – theirs and yours.
Jesus is able to do “far more abundantly than all that we ask or think” [Ephesians 3:20]. He doesn’t pass us by. He stops for this crowd here every week, restores us to life, and gives us all we need for our grief. Thanks be to God. Amen.
Pastor Curtis Stephens was born in Flint, MI. He completed his M.Div. at Concordia Theological Seminary, Ft. Wayne, IN and has served congregations in Ohio and Pennsylvania. Pastor Stephens began serving at Trinity in July of 2023.