Pastor James Hopkins preached this sermon on the sixteenth Sunday after Trinity 9/19/2021. The service was broadcast live on Facebook at 11:00am, and is now available on the FLC youtube channel. To follow along from home, the bulletin is available as a PDF: Trinity16 Bulletin
The text for the sermon was the day’s gospel lesson. To read the Bible texts for the Sixteenth Sunday after Trinity, click here.
A couple weeks ago in Bible Study, I brought up an interesting ritual that’s foreign to us. It occurred in a church in a small Christian village in Bolivia, where a visiting journalist recorded a scene much like the one from this morning’s Gospel text. A mother wept. Mourners gathered around. A child lay still in an undersized coffin.
It had scuffs, as if it had been used before. And the village was poor; there was no doubt it would be used again.
Four men were hardly necessary to carry this boy of five tender years. But great love goes to great lengths.
This child was, as St. Paul says of us all, dead in transgressions. Nekros; dead. Not moving. Powerless. Our spiritual state, in a box.
That ritual in Bolivia looked a lot like the one in this morning’s Gospel: a parade of death that is headed to the gate out of Nain. Out, because cities are for the living.
Though I doubt this woman feels very much alive. After all, as St. Luke says, “She is a widow.” And so, this double portion of death has left her with nothing. Her son was her last great hope – all she had in the world.
“Hopeless, alone, and broken.” That’s the chant of the death parade. Until its haunting chorus is disrupted.
For now, approaching the gates of the city, comes the parade of Life. You can see it. All the mourners in the city headed out to the place they would ultimately go, too; met, or even better, confronted, at the gate, by Jesus, His disciples, and “a great crowd.” It’s like a duel at high noon. A showdown between Life and death.
Except it isn’t. That showdown, that duel, is still ahead of Jesus. When on a Friday, at high noon, Jesus, the Prince of Life, will lead the death parade out of the city, carrying the weight of this casket, and every casket, on his shoulders. And He will lead them to Golgotha, where death will do its worst to Him.
But this morning, we see a picture of that battle already won.
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. verses 13-15
Our God is neither mute nor lazy. He is a God of action. Jesus comforts: “Do not weep.” Jesus touches – even the dead. Jesus Christ, the Word Incarnate, speaks life into being: “Young man, I say to you, arise.” I say to you, be resurrected.
And perhaps most beautiful of all, Jesus gives the boy back to his mother. Jesus restores life and order and beauty and joy.
Back in Bolivia, the casket moved forward, led by the crucifix, followed by the pastor. And then, like the funeral at Nain, the death parade came to a dead stop. It could go no farther.
The parade could not advance because in its way stood Life. The men lowered the casket. The mourners and the child’s mother confessed: “A great prophet has arisen among us!” and “God has visited His people!”
They confessed Christ crucified for them, raised for them, raised for that little boy, that he may be raised as well. And then the pastor spoke: “Young man, I say to you, arise.”
“I baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” By Water that child felt Jesus’ holy touch. By Word that child heard Jesus’ divine love. By Grace that child lives forever.
That’s a strange baptismal custom to us who prefer white gowns and candles. But it exists to help us think of Baptism the way St. Paul does.
Our story goes this way: in the Mystery of Holy Baptism, we are put to death with the One who is Life itself. But we are not left there. We are buried with Him in the depths of the font. But just as quickly, we are pulled forth from the water, raised. Raised with Christ, walking in newness of life.
And so the font is both a tomb and a womb: burial and birth, death and resurrection.
Those scuff marks on the casket made sense when, in a frenzy, one of the parishioners threw the casket to an empty corner where it bounced around and splintered. And even the carpenters, who would have to put it back together, erupted in joy. The death parade was quiet. The life parade is not.
In Nain the boy does not go home silently; he speaks. In Church, we do not live our resurrected lives quietly. We sing, we pray, we share our new life with others. Like the boy at Nain: we speak.
We speak, for we have been spoken to. We touch, for we have been touched. We love, for we have been loved. We walk, together, home to Eden.
Death is stopped at the gate. This new Jerusalem, where God reigns in mercy, is a city for the living; a city for the singing, maybe especially this morning, Psalm 68:
Sing to God, sing praises to His name; lift up a song to Him who rides through the deserts; His name is the LORD; exult before Him! Father of the fatherless and protector of widows is God in His holy habitation. Psalm 68:4-5