In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Ghost.
Death is a scary thing. As Christians, we know that it is the “gate of life immortal,” as we will soon sing. But that doesn’t take the fear out of the equation as we wait for our trembling breath to be calmed as we pass death’s gloomy portal. In the Litany, the Church prays to be delivered from “sudden and evil death.” Certainly “sudden and evil death” is on our collective American mind as today marks the fifteenth anniversary of the terrorist attacks that struck New York City and Washington, D.C. And that only adds to our worry over death! Will I die in my sleep in old age? Will my body be ravished by disease? Will my body stay healthy as my mind is eaten by dementia or Alzheimer’s? Will I be a victim of crime or terrorism? Certainly the way in which the curse of death will visit brings fear. But for the Christian—for you—Our Lord comes with Words of peace: “I say to you, arise!”
It is with those words of peace that Jesus interrupts a funeral procession. The only-begotten Son of God 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.
We are no strangers to her feelings. We have all experienced the sting of death. We have watched death grip someone we love. We have heard the deafening click of the casket as it is closed and locked and we see that person’s face for the last time on this side of eternity. We have wiped away tears as the body is lowered into God’s acre for safekeeping until the Resurrection of the Dead on the Last Day. We feel the emptiness of living without someone so dear to us.
But some day, we will be the ones mourned. We inherited death in the form of original sin when we were knit together in our mothers’ wombs. As appalling as the thought may be, each day is one day of adding to the inherited sin, each day is one day closer to the grave. Try as we may, we cannot avoid it. We may prolong the inevitable, but no human effort can stop death from coming.
As these snares of death surround us, there is hope. Just like that poor widow in Nain, your hope is in Christ alone. He is not the God of the dead, but of the living. And the living God sees the woman’s suffering, and He had compassion on her. He knew that soon He would set His face for Jerusalem for the final time and then it would be His own mother in a funeral procession behind her lifeless Son, but a procession no one would interrupt.
But the death of Jesus is unlike any other death because His death was not brought about by His own sin. Instead He bore your sin and died the death you deserved. He saw the Fall into sin begin your funeral procession and He stepped in to stop it before death could claim you. He laid in your place, prepared for burial, and was placed lifeless in the grave. But that was not the end of the story. There Life conquered death as Jesus took up His own life again and burst from the sealed tomb. And now He reaches into this world’s deathward drift to touch you with the life-giving waters of Holy Baptism. There at the font your funeral procession ended. Just as Jesus raised the boy with a powerful Word, so does He raise you from sin, death, and the devil with His own Name which carries with it everything He has done for your salvation. You have been raised up from those waters never to die again.
The death from which you have been spared is eternal death. This body will still die the first death, but you will not die the second death because you are a new creation in Christ. But even the first death is nothing to fear. Because God has died, death is forever changed. The Holy One has died and has made death holy, He has set it apart as a blessing for those who are held in His nail-pierced hands. Those who fall asleep in the Faith do not die, but live, and their bodies wait in peaceful sleep until Christ’s reappearing.
By Jesus’ death, by His three-day rest in the tomb, and by its broken seal and emptiness He has made death your portal to eternal life. And in that there is great comfort. There is no fear in death! Instead there is comfort in the sure knowledge that you are marked with the sign of faith and will sleep the sleep of peace. Because you are forgiven, because you are Baptized into Christ, because you hear His Word, because He feeds you His Body and His Blood you can sing in peace: “Then may death come today, tomorrow, I know in Christ I perish not; He grants the peace that stills all sorrow, gives me a robe without a spot. And thus I live in God contented and die without a thought of fear; my soul has to God’s plans consented, for through His Son my faith is clear.”
Do not be frightened by death or by all the evils in this world. If all you focus on is the evil that surrounds you, you will miss the bright light of the Gospel. Instead be strengthened by the Holy Spirit who causes Christ to dwell in your heart through faith. You have hope that overcomes death because the same Christ who saved the widow’s son has saved you. In Christ you have the joy of forgiveness and the peace of heaven because God has visited His people and redeemed them. The same God who saved the widow’s son, the same God who died and rose is the same God who will call to you on the Last Day: “I say to you, Arise!”
The peace of God which passeth all understanding keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.
Sermons from Mount Olive
Mount Olive follows the historic one-year lectionary (series of readings).