It doesn’t come through that well in the English, but St. Luke’s account of the widow in Nain, uses the word “and” 19 times. This is a literary device, a figure of speech. It is called a polysyndeton. The idea with all these “ands” is to pile it on.
“And they were carrying out a dead boy. And he was the only begotten of his mother. And she was a widow. And he was a popular boy, and lots of the town was with her.”
The Law just keeps coming. When it rains, it pours. Death marches to the grave. She was a nearly barren woman, only given one son, but it was something. She wasn’t completely barren. She had one husband and one son, and if it was not paradise on earth, if she was not rich, at least she was not all alone.
And then her husband died. And then her son, her only son, died. And there was nothing the doctors or her sister or the neighbors could do but wring their hands and cry. And though she was in a great crowd, she was all alone.
Death is the common lot of humanity. And no one escapes. And it is not just that we die: it is that our loved ones die and leave us behind. And there is really nothing we can do about it.
There is something, however, that Jesus can do about it: And He had compassion on her.
He saw her sad plight. He felt her pain. And His heart broke inside of Him and moved Him to set Himself between Nain and the cemetery.
He does not wring His hands. And He does not weep. And He commands that she stop crying.
But how can she stop? Her husband is dead and her son is dead and the grave is dug and the pallbearers are marching on.
But, wait. They pallbearers have stopped. The devil is a liar. Death has lost its sting. The pallbearers stop, dead in their tracks.
He didn’t tell them to stop, but they did. They can’t pass Him. He stands in the way of Death.
To her, He says, “Stop crying.” Then He reaches out and touches the bier. He doesn’t grab it. There is no violence in His act. It is a gentle touch. But there is strength in it. And that touch, brings them to a halt, but they aren’t dead. They are living. They are still like mighty oaks. They no longer carry the boy to the grave. They now hold him up from the earth for the Lord. The bier has become a hammock.
The grave has no complaint against the living God. What can it say? It has been filled with the love of God that would not end.
And Jesus commands the boy: “Arise.” And he sits up. And he begins to speak. And the Lord gives him back to his mother.
And, she started crying again.
He commanded the boy to rise and He did. He commanded the widow to stop crying and she did. His command calls forth what It says. Here His Word banishes sadness along with death. His Word and touch stop the pallbearers and empty the grave of its prey.
The grave is empty because it was filled. He changes places with the boy. He who knew no sin becomes sin, is cursed and forsaken by His Father, lays down His life as payment and ransom, that this widow would get both her boy and her husband back. That is why the grave is silent. It got its due. The wages have been paid and justice has been met and it is good once again.
For once God said, “Eat of this fruit and you will surely die.” Yet Adam and Eve aren’t dead. They live. And they live because Jesus has died for them. So also has He died for those who live and die in Nain and in Ft. Wayne and wherever Baptism washes men as His.
This isn’t to say there is no more sadness in the widow’s life or that she never cries again. He gives her boy back and she cries. No, the Bible doesn’t say that. It is speculation. I can’t prove she started crying when the boy sat up and began to speak again. But I am confident that she did because I know something about mothers.
This is what we do in this veil of tears: we cry. We cry because even though Jesus lives, the good work begun in us is not yet complete. We have faith, but it is not yet full. We have the forgiveness of sins that He has won for us, but we still have sins. We still hurt ourselves and those we love even as we are hurt by them. We are afflicted by death and We are waiting, like watchmen in the night, eager for the morning.
The widow isn’t crying when her boy is given back because she is happy. She is happy, no doubt. But she is also sad. She misses her husband. She wishes that he were there to see this great thing. She is happy to have the boy back but she still has the memory of the pain of this boy’s death. She knows that her affection for him means that she is still vulnerable to this pain. It could happen again.
On this side of glory there is no joy without sorrow, no relationship among men that is not fraught with sin. The mother of the bride has a thousand reasons to cry and not one of them is happiness.
Martin Luther called this reality the Theology of Cross. We cry. We mourn. That is how we love those who have gone before us. We suffer. But we do not mourn as those who have no hope. We know that death is transitory, a door into the presence of God without sin, an end to our tears. The mother of the bride is sad because her little girl is gone, never to climb up upon her laps and give her kisses again, and yet the mother is happy to see her daughter come to that great moment and fulfillment. In the same way, the mourning widow weeps for her loss while rejoicing in her husband’s gain. That is the theology of the cross.
We hold to the cross. It is our joy and our hope. We cling to the cross. It is the gift that God has given in His Son, the way that He has loved and is loving us. We preach Christ crucified because there, in the cross of Jesus Christ, God is both hidden from and revealed to us. His goodness is hidden in the injustice and the violence. His Life is hidden in death. Yet we believe, we confess, we trust that God is good even in evil things, even in death, and He will bring us through. He stands between us and the cemetery and turns pallbearers into mighty oaks.
His death was not in vain. Nor was His death the end. It was not tragedy, an unnecessary martyrdom. It was the beginning, the fount of all our hope and joy. On Easter morning, He rose again, out of death, the Victor on our behalf, the Sacrifice complete to win us back to Him.
Did He follow this boy from Nain. Nay, the boy followed Him.
God Himself has taken up our cause. He is one of us. He is the Living God, but He is a Man. He is against death and He is against death for us. That is why He breaks into the funeral procession and stops the pallbearers. That is why He tells the widow to stop crying. And that is also why He breaks into our church today and comes riding in on bread and wine. He comes, He visits us, in His risen Body and Blood, for He is not simply a great prophet, He is God and He is Man. And He is our God and He is our Man. He is Man for us, our Man into death and out of the grave. He, our Man, has a Body and He has Blood, once paid as a Sacrifice and ransom, now given as Food for Faith. Here, as in the cross from which it comes, the Lord is both hidden and revealed. Here the living Christ visits and says: “Arise.”
He has compassion, on widows and orphans, on the poor and the downtrodden, on the lonely and hurting and uncertain, on the pastors and people. He has compassion on us. He will not let the grave have you. And He let it have your husbands. And He will not let it have your sons.
In Jesus’ Name. Amen.