(Reblogged from Rev. William Willenbrock, Pastor of Calvary Lutheran Church, Medford, NJ)
The village of Nain—the backdrop for today’s story–is about 10 miles from Jesus hometown of Nazareth, that’s about from here (Medford) to Pemberton or here to Cherry Hill. It’s nestled at the foot of a small mountain. Nain in Hebrew means charming, beautiful, lovely. You’ve driven through a charming little village before haven’t you, they’re not the biggest or the greatest towns, they’re just quaint—lovely. That would be Nain on any other day… But on this day, Nain has lost it’s charm, all of it has fallen into the casket of this widow’s son. Not only has this woman buried her husband, now she has to bury her one and only son as well. A whole village is moved by this grief upon grief. Verse 12, “a considerable crowd from the town was with her.” Are you not deeply moved when someone you know has just one tragedy after another after another. That is this woman. What you have to understand is it’s not just her son who is lying in that casket…that is unspeakably tragic in itself. But her 401k is also in that casket, her assisted living facility is lying in that casket, her police department is lying in that casket. Her housing remodeler, her plumber, her repairman is lying in that casket. Her Netflix, her 8 o’clock evening news, her comedic sitcom is lying in that casket. All these things and many, many more were done by a woman’s sons. How would a retired woman eat? There is no Bank of Galilee with a ride through ATM. If you will eat when you are seventy you had better have a son to break his back in the fields or on a boat and this widow now has none. Her all her past and all her future is gone with the death of her son…
“And when the Lord saw her, he σπλαγχνίζομαι. If you joined us Thursday night for Bible study you know what this word means. Σπλαγχνίζομαι comes from the Greek word σπλαγχνα the Greek word for guts. The internal organs around the stomach were seen as the seat of compassion, affection, emotion. When you first met you spouse your σπλαγχνα were all jittery or when you see someone in pain don’t you feel it in your σπλαγχνα. When Jesus sees this widow it is gut-wrenching for him, he σπλαγχνίζομαι. Isn’t that amazing? God feels pain…that’s what compassion or sympathy literally mean. Com means “with”, passion means suffering in Latin, that’s why the movie is called the Passion of the Christ… Sym means together, a sym-phony literally means together sound, well symPATHY means together feeling. Jesus is feeling this woman’s pain together with her. Are we compassionate, are we sympathetic? Don’t we often we hit the mute button. We try to shut down or numb ourselves from feeling compassion and sympathy…why? Because it hurts…to be compassionate means you are going to join their passion—their suffering and that hurts, it’s burdensome, it’s annoying and so what do we do? We hit the mute button, we don’t let out minds or our hearts or our splagchna take on their pain, we turn a deaf ear, we keep an emotional distance. We’ve become really good actors. When someone shares their pain we put on a compassionate face we furrow our eyebrows to convey concern all the while thinking about what we’re going to make for dinner and hoping the conversation is over soon. One of the most loving and comforting things we can do for people is have authentic compassion. We know the difference. Do you know what young people are athirst for? Authenticity. Why do so many in their twenties and thirties not come to church? The church is seen as inauthentic–fake. We may be inauthentic, but our Lord is not. Our lord, σπλαγχνίζομαι. He suffers with the widow.
And he suffers with you. Do you think that Jesus’s compassion is limited to the people who lived around 30 AD in the area of Judea? Of course it is not. In the midst of your pain, your loss, your death, a promise rings true…his last promise in the Gospel of Matthew… “lo I am with you always even unto the end of the age” We think during the most difficult and tragic moments in life that God is far off, learn from today’s Gospel reading that this is not so. God, σπλαγχνίζομαι.
But that is not all he does….”and [he]said to her, “Do not weep.” The God who said let there be light and there was light now says to this widow’s heart, and to yours as well, “do not weep”. Why should widow’s heart not weep? Why should your heart not weep? Because of what he does next. “Then he came up and touched the bier, and the bearers stood still. And he said, “Young man, I say to you, arise.” 15 And the dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother.”
This is a foreshadow of what Jesus comes to do on his bier. He comes to trample down death by death. Death is the greatest enemy because it takes everything from us. If ever there was a time to weep it is in the midst of Death, but as St. Paul says we do “not grieve as others do who have no hope.” As our Lord says, “Blessed are those who mourn for they shall be comforted”. Wipe away your tears…death has been vanquished. Christ will say to you arise. He will say to your loved ones who have died in him arise. Is this not true? If it is false there is no reason to be here. But indeed it is true. So we are right to have hope even when we meet tragedy like this widow……..
Can you imagine what this would have been like? A man lying in a casket becomes alive again?!?! I’m not sure we can. But the peoples’ reaction is recorded in today’s text, “Fear seized them all” it says. Why are they afraid? Because they realize they are in the presence of the ultimate power, the power over life and death. In the sight of such power one realizes their powerlessness and that is scary. Then they glorified God, saying, “A great prophet has arisen among us!” and “God has visited his people!” That second statement is more true than they realize. Jesus is not just a prophet. You might think Jesus is just doing the same trick Elijah did in our Old Testament lesson, right? No, there is one big difference… “Elijah stretched himself upon the child three times and cried to the Lord, “O Lord my God, let this child’s life come into him again.” 22 And the Lord listened to the voice of Elijah.” Jesus does not pray…he does not petition God to raise this widow’s son, he says arise and the widow’s son obeys. In today’s text you see Jesus for who he really is to again quote St. Paul, “in Jesus the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily”. That is who we worship this day, that is who is in our midst even as I speak this sentence, that is who comes to spiritual heal us this day like he physically healed the widow’s son. And if we have not rejected spiritual healing from this good physician we will certainly participate in a resurrection even greater than this widow’s son, we will be raised to eternal life in God’s kingdom which has no end. That is the good news—the hope of Christ and now may we do as the people of Nain. Verse 17. “And this report about him spread through…all the surrounding country.” Amen.