transcribed, in part, by Adriane Dorr
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
There is only room in our consciences for so many tragedies at a time. With five years having now gone by and the war in Iraq dragging on month after month, it´s hard to get terribly emotional anymore. So it is also that since these terrible things have happened, we have all suffered a thousand, little personal tragedies that have taken our attention so that there really is no room left in us at all to get wound up about a tsunami that happened eighteen months ago on the other side of the world or even a hurricane in our own country that is now over a year old. This is to say nothing of the violence at Columbine High School or the fall of Saigon, the attack at Pearl Harbor, the bombing of Dresden, and the nuclear attack at Hiroshima. We make vows to never forget these things when they happen. “Oh, this is so awful,’ we say, “that we will never forget. We must never forget.’ But we know we will forget. Time will remove them from us, but even more than that, it is simply the reality of having to face ongoing tragedies, and our consciences simply become too full of day-to-day sorrow and new catastrophes for us to everyday mourn for those who died in Pearl Harbor.
Surely that is also how the widow felt as she carried her only-begotten to the grave. It seemed as though death had won. It had taken her husband. It took her son. She was left all alone. How she must have longed for death to take her! How empty and afraid she must have been! How many times did she cry to heaven and ask why God took him instead of her? How many times did she offer the trade that every grieving mother has longed to make?
But such is not our place. You cannot make the trade. You cannot die for someone else. You cannot absorb someone else´s cancer or go back in time and change seats. It seems unjust that the young would die when the old are tired and would gladly take their place. But this is not our place, and we never get to choose. It seems as though death takes whomever it wants without cause or excuse. Young men die as easily as the old. All life is fragile and temporary. Flashes of violence rendered by men, machinery, nature, or by the ravages of disease can quickly take down the healthiest and most robust of people.
But that is only how it seems, and seems is the mousiest of all words. Death is the devil´s chariot, and he is a liar. He is the master of seems. He would deceive us as he deceived our mother Eve with things that seem to be, with fruit that seems pleasing to the eye, with religions that seem so much more reasonable and even nicer than the God of the Holy Scripture, with anger and jealousy that seem justified and reasonable. Repent.
Death has not won. Death will not win. Jesus lives. Man lives not by bread alone or by what it seems to the scientists or nutritionists that he needs. But man lives by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God. Man lives by the Word of God made flesh out of God´s mouth and into the virgin´s ear and womb, to the cross, and out again of the tomb. Man lives by the Word of God´s mouth and from His right hand to the waters swirled by angels in all of Christendom´s fonts. Man lives by the Word out of the mouth of God and into the mouths of men hidden under bread and wine. That is how man lives, or man lives not at all, no matter how it might seem.
What we cannot do, Jesus can and has done. We cannot take the place of another. But our Lord, Jesus Christ, who was not invited to the wake in Nain, who did not even seem to know the boy, rudely interrupted the lament. He barged right in and touched the dead. He broke the taboo. He broke the Law of Moses, and He paid the penalty for it. For He who knew no sin became sin. He was then unclean, and death was transferred, passed from the boy to our Lord. Life passed from our Lord to the boy. Jesus was infected; the boy was cleansed. Life flowed to the boy, pulsed anew in his young veins. And Jesus, the Lord and Giver of Life, traded places with him, fulfilling the wish and dream of his mother. What she could not do, He could and He did for her and for him.
He made the offer to the Father that the Father could not refuse. He would die in the place of sinners. He would meet all that justice demands. He would take all of the uncleanness, all of the sin, all of the guilt into Himself, shutting the devil´s mouth and emptying hell´s prison once and for all with and in Himself. So He spoke, and the boy arose. Pilate´s men carried out the sentence sometime later. For Jesus died because He touched this dead man and took his uncleanliness and his death into Himself. Pilot´s men drove in the nails of compassion that held Him to the cross, but He laid down His life of His own accord as a sacrifice. The Law was fulfilled in that sacrifice, and it was the blood of our Lord that stopped the accusations, the threats, and ended God´s wrath.
Still that mousy word comes back again. It seems as though the resurrection in Nain was only temporary, simply a brief respite from death. That famous boy from Nain is no longer with us. He died again. It would seem as though death was merely delayed or that death always wins and always gets its prize. Even if he lived on this earth another fifty or sixty years, death would still come. The flesh has long been off his buried bones. But that is only how it seems.
For when Nain´s famous son laid down in death for a second time, he was for the second time given back to his mother. He had buried his mother, to be sure. It is safe to say that if our Lord gives a widow back her only-begotten son from the dead, she will not have to bury him again. It´s a fair assumption that she died before him, that he buried her. But when he died again, he was again given back to her in heaven, and this time, he was with her for good. This time, he would never be taken away, never again separated from her or from her husband or from Abraham or Moses and all of the saints who had gone on before them. And if the people in Nain were filled with joy and the fear of God at that resurrection that day, just imagine the joy in heaven when that boy woke up to see his mother again.
Death only seems to win and take its prize. But those who believe in Jesus never die. They live. St. Paul says they fall asleep. They are not dead. Their souls go to heaven. Their bodies go into the grave to wait for the Last Day. This is the way that Jesus died. When He was on the cross, when it was finished, when the ransom had been paid and everything was done, when the Law had no more to ask, Jesus gave up His spirit. It does not mean He gave up the Holy Spirit. He gave up His soul. As a man, He died. He gives up His spirit, which goes to the Father. And His body goes into the grave to wait for the resurrection, for Easter Sunday.
So it is that all Christians thus die. They are not dead; they live. For our God is the God of the living. Their souls live in heaven with Him. Their souls go as Jesus´ did to the Father, and their bodies go into the grave to wait for the resurrection on the Last Day. Their souls will be rejoined to their bodies; their bodies will be perfected, healed, cleansed. And then they will live fully before God as they were created and as they were intended to live. For all of those who believe in Jesus live.
This is what we wait for, what we are expecting. We wait for the time when all godly widows and all pious, weeping mothers will have their sons and husbands given back to them again and this time forever. That is just as true for those who lose their loved ones in terrible tragedies and unpredicted actions as it is of those who lose their loved ones without the world noticing or caring. Jesus lives, and soon we will completely forget about Saigon and Pearl Harbor, Dresden and Hiroshima, New York City and New Orleans. We will forget about them completely, not because we are lazy or busy and not because they have been pushed out of our consciences by new tragedies. But we will forget them because they will be no more, and because Jesus will bring the new work He has begun in you to completion.
In + Jesus´ Name. Amen.