2 Pentecost/Lectionary 10
June 6, 2010
Luke 7: 11-17
Every now and then in Quezaltenango, a policeman would block off a street and a company of people would begin a procession down the road. At first I couldn’t figure out what was going on, but then came the casket, usually carried by the men in the family. Everyone who attended the funeral joined the procession out to the graveyard, young and old alike. Right behind the casket was the grieving family, often a weeping spouse or parents held up by other family members. I was always touched by the solemn parade. No one spoke, and everyone on the sidewalk was still as they went by.
I thought of these processions as I read this story this morning. I can just see the weeping mother walking behind the stretcher with her son, being held up by neighbors who will now have to help her make her way in the world, if she’s lucky. Jesus and his disciples were probably talking and maybe even having a good time as they walk in from another direction, intersecting with the funeral procession as they come toward town.
A couple of things catch my attention in this story. First, Jesus doesn’t do this from far away. He could have just said something, like he did in the story of the Centurion’s slave. No. He touches this young man’s body. In doing so he breaks one of the most powerful taboos of his religion. Dead bodies are unclean. He takes this man’s uncleanness into himself and destroys it in restoring him to life. In the process, he steps out of religious rules to stand on the side of life. He will continue to absorb death and evil by touching and being touched, even by being brutally touched in his torture and death. Through death to new life, he becomes the literal embodiment of life with God forever for us.
Second, losing a child is life out of order. There is a special grief to losing a child. It’s not how things are supposed to be. In restoring this young man to life, he restores the order of this woman’s world and the order of this community. This woman has already lost her husband and without her son will not only lose her income, but the house and property which were her husband’s. “God has looked favorably on his people,” the crowd declares. One of my colleagues says a better translation is “God has visited his people.” They understand that this truly is God with us. This is the claim Jesus made when he read from Isaiah: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me to preach good news to the poor, to restore sight to the blind, proclaim freedom for prisoner, and proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” He said that HE was that prophet. And so the crowd acknowledges that a great prophet has arisen among them.
Sometimes I wish we could just summon up Jesus to put his hand on someone we love while we wait for healing: God with us, directly and visibly. But that doesn’t happen to us. All we have is each other, to touch us, to pray with us, to comfort us, and by our presence with each other, to testify to the presence of Jesus in our suffering. Jesus breathes on us and tells us to do it for each other. Jesus didn’t heal every leper, or bring sight to every blind person, or raise every widow’s son. But in his death and resurrection he promised life without end to all, beginning with the fullness of the life we live today. This story shows us not only that God is with us, not only that God has power over life and death. It shows us that God is loving, and that God is merciful. We don’t earn God’s love and mercy, we don’t even deserve it. It is God’s gift. God know what it is to lose a child, to lose the dearest thing to your heart, and God comes to walk with us, to turn our mourning into dancing. In his body, in his touch, Jesus was God in our history, guaranteeing that every promise God ever made to us is true. Without condition, without exception, we only need to trust those promises.
And now, may the peace of God, the touch of Jesus, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, our Lord. Amen.