All Saints Anglican Church, Prescott, AZ
September 20, 2018
Text: Luke 7:11-17
Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of our hearts be always acceptable in thy sight, O Lord our strength and our redeemer. Amen.
This past week it was impossible not to be reminded of that horrible day in September 18 years ago, when our country faced perhaps the single greatest attack upon it, if not in our history certainly in all of our lifetimes. I still remember that day vividly, I remember exactly where I was and the conversation when I first heard the news. I remembered at first not grasping it’s gravity and then wrestling with it as the situation unfolded on the TV in the living room of a teacher’s house. I suspect that almost everyone here has similar memories. Perhaps, you can even remember what the sky looked like that day.
Terror, trauma, and tragedy works like this. There are calamitous events in our lives that we never forget, and we remember the most odd details of those days. I remember the blueness of the sky that September morning, and I remember watching an airplane fly over head as we sat outside in art class. I remember before the news broke I was supposed to be drawing something but staring into the sky lost in thought was much more interesting.
When such tragedy befalls us, whether it is an attack that threatens our security, the loss of a loved one, the loss of a job, or experiencing violence far too close to home, it is easy to cling to fear, to wonder if everything will be alright. Too often we blame God in these circumstances of violent upheavals of the world around us but if we take a Biblical worldview we are reminded that this was not how the world was designed to be.
If you look back at Genesis 1, we see this amazing and beautiful litany of God’s creative actions, after each one Moses simply states this fact – it was good, for five days we hear: day one - it was good, day two - it was good, day three - it was good, day four - it was good, day five - it was good, but then on the sixth day, the final day of God’s creative act there is a different proclamation. On the sixth day we learn that everything the Lord has done was very good.
The world was not created to ache as we know it does, we were not created to have pain and to die. Humanity was not meant to war with itself. Yet, we see it does, we see brother killing brother, sister hating sister, we see sexual immorality, we see blasphemy, we see extremists flying airplanes into buildings filled with people, and we see a widow lose her only lifeline to be left completely alone in this world that too often feels cold, terrifying, and painful.
So, what happened?
We need only to flip a couple pages further along in Genesis to learn. In the third chapter we learn Adam and Evil take the fruit they were told to not eat, they reject God as their source of life and wisdom, choosing themselves instead. On that terrible day we see the consequence for rebellion. On that terrible day we see death enter in to the world.
It has always been odd to me, I can remember on at least three horrible occasions in my life looking up to the sky and seeing that it was bright and blue. I wondered why the world didn’t care that I was hurting. I wondered how it could be sunny. In our heads when we visualize Adam and Eve’s rebellion – I wonder if we see a storm cloud brewing off in the distance like some medieval art piece or if the skies we blue. I wonder if Adam and Eve looked back at the garden and remember that fateful day and remember the smell of lilacs and the blueness of the skies as the depth of the ramifications of their sin took hold of their mind.
In this tragic moment, in this terrible choice of Adam and Eve death and pain entered the world. Terrorists were not part of God’s divine design, death was not meant to exist, anger, and wickedness was not meant to be a part of the normal human experience. Yet, we have all watched ones we love die. We have all felt the pain and doubt of seeing someone do something so wicked we cannot comprehend it.
How should the Christian respond to this pain?
The 19th century Anglican Bishop J.C. Ryle’s commentary on our Gospel lesson gives us a great deal of clarity and hope on this front:
The wondrous event described in these verses, is only recorded in St. Luke’s Gospel. It is one of the three great instances of our Lord restoring a dead person to life, and, like the raising of Lazarus and the ruler’s daughter, is rightly regarded as one of the greatest miracles which He wrought on earth. In all three cases, we see an exercise of divine power. In each we see a comfortable proof that the Prince of Peace is stronger than the king of terrors, and that though death, the last enemy, is mighty, he is not so mighty as the sinner’s Friend.
“In each we see a comfortable proof that the Prince of Peace is stronger than the king of terrors, and that though death, the last enemy, is mighty, he is not so might as a sinner’s Friend.” Death cannot and did not over come Christ, but Christ overcame death and the grave could not keep Christ contained.
This is the Easter hope and promise that we celebrate and remember every Sunday throughout the year. This is the hope and the response of the Christian – that although sin, and pain, terror, and heartache echo throughout the world, in Christ we have an eternal hope. In Christ’s death our sinful ways are put to death and in Christ’s resurrection we are promised eternal life. Not that we won’t have to pass through the death of this life, not that we won’t experience the final failure of our flesh, but that in the great last day we will enjoy that resurrection that we already saw with Christ. In that great last day as we trusted in Christ in this day, we will be eternally bound to him. What a great promise this is!
So, we meet this sonless widow outside the town of Nain. This poor lady had met the moment of hopelessness, a moment of sheer terror. Although her heart was probably breaking, although tears were running down her face from the pain of burying a child – a deeper fear would almost definitely have gripped her – “what now?” she was probably thinking “I have no husband to care for me, and no son to tend to my needs, I am alone, abandoned to this cold world.”
It is weird to us to think this way – we might think, well even if she’s ill-educated without many skills she certainly could have gotten some job. As we look back we need to remember that we are looking at a highly patriarchal society, it is possible she could have made her way, but the culture wasn’t set up that way. We know from the text that she had already lost her husband and in the loss of her only son she lost her final lifeline. She no longer had any worldly hope.
It is odd to think of the coldness of that set against the calamitous compassion we see from her fellow towns people. We do not learn if the people intended to set up a meal train, to help her out of her dire circumstances, or if they were just giving lip service to her pain so they could go back to their lives in the awareness that it could have just as easily been them. We are not given a glimpse into anyone’s mindset, except to say – there is a profound pain, and everyone is aware of how dire the situation is.
In this moment, our Lord grasps the gravity of the situation and he seeks to comfort the widow. He says those words I was taught to never say to a woman crying – “do not weep.” Yet, unlike me, who, when I learned this valuable advice, was as much trying to comfort as escape an uncomfortable situation – Christ had the ability to do something about the pain and hopelessness that the widow is facing. Do not weep he says because he is the only one who can give hope in times such as those, he is the only one who can provide true comfort when our world comes crumbling down around us and it would seem that there is no hope. There is hope – our hope is found in Christ.
And where does this hope come from?
As Luke often does, he is subtly pointing to something in the Old Testament, a subtly which would not have escape those who read it in his time, but perhaps slips by us without us even realizing what he has done. In this lesson Christ is echoing the prophets Elijah and Elisha. Both of these men raised sons from the dead and helped to heal the pain of such a loss. Both of these men in the history of Israel were great prophets, and so an easy conclusion could be made that Christ too is a great prophet, and many believe this, but there’s another difference between the former stories and Christ’s.
When we look at Elijah and Elisha, they petition God to raise the dead but what does Christ say? “Young man, I say to you arise.” In all three cases of resurrection in the Gospels of Christ it is in his own authority that he raises the dead.
Christ is the first and greatest prophet, Christ is the first and greatest priest, Christ is the first and greatest king, but most importantly, Christ is the second person of the trinity, one in substance with the God head and the Holy Spirit. We see this as he bears his divine authority this morning, we see this as he breaths life into this man, just as God breathed life into the first man Adam, just as it is that we find life in Him.
And the man spoke. Life entered into his body again, and hope enters into the woman’s heart and fear seized the people.
Fear and glory go hand in hand here. Let us go back to the fear we experienced 18 years ago, or any moment that fear gripped our hearts, what did we fear? We feared what an enemy could do to us, we feared the darkness and wickedness of what those captured by the king of terror could inflict upon us. The sorrowful woman in this morning’s Gospel was inflicted by the same fear we felt, perhaps more personal but the same kind of fear none the less.
The fear that gripped the crowd, the former mourners was an altogether different kind of fear. It was the fear of the Lord, the fear that pushes us to our knees in prayer and worship. The fear that says – some great act of God has happened. The same fear that tells us – it is a good and right thing to come to worship with a posture of humility, a posture of prayer. A fear that says when we come to worship – we are about to do something holy, good, and beautiful, we are about to experience the divine presence in a way that arches well beyond the words we have to define it.
The fear that grips the crowd grips us when we come into our corporate worship, for we are coming before a God who’s Holiness compares to ours in such a way that we are a spec of sand and He is a mighty ocean. The fear they experienced and we seek to emulate is the depth and breadth and totality of reverence that leads us to sing Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God of Hosts, Heaven and earth are full of your glory! Glory be to thee, O Lord Most high, and again Glory be to God on high… O Lord God, Lamb of God… have mercy upon us… for thou only art holy.
It is this reverence that tells our tradition to have a time of quietness, a time of silence before we sing out our praises, read his word, and break the bread that is His body. This silence is as much out of love for our brothers and sisters who might need a little bit of quiet to pray – as it is for us to return our hearts to Him who renews them as we lay them upon the altar in adoration of him who always was, and is, and always will be. It is this fear that is reverence that compels many to fast before Holy Communion because we know that when we come to the table we are about to experience something more holy than words can express.
Let us not be gripped with the fear of this world, fear of the terror of bumps in the night, terror of those who are enslaved by the king of terror, but let us be gripped by the fear that frees us from all other fears, let us be gripped by the fear that frees of from heartache and anxiety and leads us into green pastures. Let us be gripped by the fear that leads us away from the pain that haunts us and into the joy of knowing God. Let us be gripped by the fear that promises a great and terrible last day where we finally find freedom from the pain of this world to be ushered into the eternal kingdom where we yet again walk with God in the cool of the day, where our hearts constantly sing with the utmost joy that song of Holy Praise to the Lord of lords and King of kings.
It is here we see the transformation of the crowds, for they too see a great act of God, they see that something spectacular has happened and they utter that a great prophet has arisen among them, and we know this to be true, even the Muslims recognize that Christ was a great prophet and many agnostics confess that He was a great teacher. But we know that he was the greatest prophet. We know that he is a greater and truer prophet than any other.
And we know Luke and those who are in the crowd that: “God has visited his people.” Luke loves this exclamation and we see it throughout his writings and again we see echoes of the Old Testament – for when God visits his people it is either to provide judgement or mercy and Christ does both in Luke’s Gospels. In this, we are reminded that Christ is the judge of the soul and the bringer of mercy. Here we see him deal a great and kind mercy to the widow.
Here too we are reminded of the mercy that he deals to us. For though we were yet dead in our sins… God is rich in mercy and of great love.. In Christ we have been made alive. Our story is not so different from the widow’s story. It is in those simple words, “young man, I say to you arise,” her hope was restored, when Christ comes into our lives he tells us to arise and our hope is restored. When Christ comes into our lives, we know that surely God has visited us and our lives are transformed.
There is a secular song about this transformation – the singer wrestles with what happens with a friend who comes to Christ, leaving his old life behind. The way of Christ is foolishness to the world around us, and for one who does not know Christ it is hard to grasp how a friend who once knew how to sin boldly could change so radically. It happens when our hearts are captured by the fear and hope we know in Christ.
As Christians we cannot deny the horror of the world around us, we cannot deny what the fall of man has done to the good creation of God, but as Christians we know the prince of peace and His strength dwarfs any evil that we might face. We know the Prince of Peace who brings us peace day in and day out. We know the prince of peace who has over come death, and who gives us hope for eternity with him.
Let us, therefore be a community that is gripped not by the fear of the king of terrors, but gripped by the loving fear of the Lord that leads us into the utmost reverence and joy. Let us be gripped by the desire to glorify Him in all we do, knowing that no power of darkness can steal us away from Him, that no snare of death can steal us from the eternal life we look forward to. Let us cling joyfully to that hope and let that light shine that we might glorify God.
IN the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost. Amen.