October 6, 2019 A+D
St. Luke 7: 11-17
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
The Holy Scripture records incidents of women who weeping over their barrenness, of the Lord weeping over impenitence, of God’s people weeping over those who reject salvation, and even Christ Himself weeping at the death of his friend Lazarus. Weeping has its place. Thus does Solomon teach us that there is a time for every even as Solomon rightly teaches us that there is a time to every purpose under heaven, including a time to weep.
There was a widow in Nain and it was time for her to weep again. She wept that day for the son, her only son, whose body lay cold and dead on the bier. She wept as well for the husband she’d lost before and for her the other children she hadn’t been given. She wept for the injustices of this world that would leave her poor and disenfranchised in Nain. But mostly, I suspect, that day she wept for the boy.
In and of itself, there is nothing good about death. We should not romanticize it. We were not meant to die. If it were not for sin we would not die. In my experience, there is no such thing as “dying well.” It is a battle to the last breath. The whole reason fallen men made up the wicked industry of euthanasia was not because the mechanics of suicide were difficult or too complicated for non-medical personnel but because in the end no one wants to die and it is hard to face so they require a medical veneer and an inability to back out.
Death is the wages of sin and the enemy of God. Life is not a circle that starts over again. Death is an end. Reincarnation is a fantasy, as is Karma, and practically every platitude that makes it way on to the generic cards at the funeral home. Not everyone is a better place and no one is in the morning dew or the brush of butterfly wings.
Whatever the reasons for her weeping, it is not surprising that the widow wept. There are plenty of reasons for all of us to weep: the loss of our loved ones, our many regrets and shame from lives lived most imperfectly and selfishly, fear for the future of democracy and virtue, the decline of the Church in America, revelations of the twisted perversions of abortionists who preserve the bodies of their victims as trophies, the murder of one of our brothers in Iowa on the steps of his church, and on it goes. There is a time to weep. That time is now.
It was time to weep in Nain as well. The boy was dead. The country was occupied by a foreign power that did not know Joseph. The local powers were divided between corrupt liberal priests who only paid lip service to Moses and legalist racist scribes who had no love. The husband was dead. The boy was dead. Dead. The boy was dead. The right response, that which reverence demanded of the widow, was weeping. To everything there is a season. It was time to weep in Nain. But Jesus, no stranger to death or weeping, who wept at the death of Lazarus, walked right up to that widow and said “do not weep.”
There is a time for laughter and joy. It is also now. Christ, Our Lord, stepped right up and touched the bier, taking the ritual uncleanness of death and its business partners into Himself. He stopped the pallbearers in their tracks. He told the widow to stop her weeping. He told the boy to stop being dead, to get up. The boy had to get up so that Jesus could lie down in his place.
When Jesus said, “Do not weep,” He was confessing a greater reality, one beyond what the eyes could see during any funeral procession. The One who is greater than Solomon is also greater than death. C.S. Lewis tried to get at this greatness in His Narnia books with the phrase “deeper magic.” Lewis had his Satan figure, the White Witch, cite Deep Magic as her excuse. She said that the Deep Magic states that she gets the lives of all traitors. After Aslan, the Christ figure is sacrificed, she thinks she has won the victory and is free to destroy and enslave all of Narnia, but Aslan, like Jesus, rises from the dead. He explains that the Witch knew the Deep Magic but that there was an and older and Deeper Magic that she did not know. That Deeper Magic stated that when a willing victim who had committed no treachery was killed in place of a traitor that the Deep Magic would be undone and death itself would start working backwards.
In Lewis’ terms Solomon’s words “a time to weep, and a time to laugh” are Deep Magic. Jesus is the Deeper Magic. He doesn’t undo Solomon’s words. He fills them to overflowing. The Deep Magic gets its due with the death of Jesus who takes our place and dies our death for us. The Deeper Magic is “Those who sow in tears will reap in joy” and “Blessed are those who mourn for they shall be comforted.”
Still, there is a war being fought and the devil is pretending that he doesn’t know the end. There is still a time to weep and it is now. The boy in Nain died because of sin, not just because he, himself, was a sinner, but because he was infected by sin, dwelt among a people of sin, was attacked and harassed and hounded by sin. The world is evil. Death thinks that it is king.
But again, Jesus is greater than death or the grave. He is a Victim both immaculate and willing. His Sacrifice is far more profound than Aslan’s and does far more. No one takes His life from Him. He lays it down of His own accord. He makes of Himself the whole burnt offering. He becomes the scapegoat with our sins pressed upon Him and is sent out of the city to die alone. He is the grain offering sacrificed to God in thanksgiving to feed us, the peace offering that reconciles us first to Himself and then to one another. He is the priest and the lamb and the incense that advocates to His Father on our behalf. He is the Temple itself, as well as the pillar of fire and smoke and the Rock that followed Israel and the ladder upon which the angels ascend and descend and One who stands with Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in the fiery furnace. He meets the demands of His own Law. He does what no mere could ever do for himself let alone for anyone else: He makes recompense to the Father for our sins; He pays our debt in full, and claims us as His own. He is the Deeper Magic that Satan did not bargain for. He is the Resurrection and the Life and He mocks death and the grave as He steals away their stings and He says to the weeping widow “Do not weep.”
He revives the boy as a foretaste of the Resurrection on the last day. He turns her mourning into laughter and ushers in the time for joy and comforts her with His Holy Spirit.
Even for her, though, there was still weeping to be done. She got the boy back. Thanks be to God! But she did not then get her husband back, nor was Pilate de-throned, nor were the corrupt priests de-frocked. She got the boy back but still had to live by faith, to wait for God’s mercy to be revealed in plain sight and His vengeance to be taken and His saints known to all creation. She had to wait and believe and hope even while she wept.
We live in that same reality. To everything there is a season and a time to every purpose under heaven. There is a time to weep and a time to laugh. Often as not they are side by side and somewhat simultaneous. We have much to be outraged over, much to mourn, much to cast away, and at the same time we know that Jesus lives and have much to be thankful for and to laugh about and to dance around and through. There are bodies to bury and bodies to baptize, bodies to kiss and bodies to spank, bodies to chastise and bodies to love. Jesus lives! Our sins are forgiven. We belong to Him. We weep when we must, but we will not weep forever. The greater reality, the Deeper Magic, the love of God has made a promise that He will not break.
Behold, I tell you a mystery: In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. Jesus lives.
This is the beating heart of all our hope: Jesus lives. And the beating heart of our hope is no place more evident than in the Sacrament of the Altar. For in the Sacrament we proclaim the death of Christ, that is, that He died and died for us, as a Substitute and as a Propitiation of our sins, and at the same time we proclaim that He who died is not dead but lives. We do not eat the dead flesh of Christ which would have decayed long ago if He were dead. We eat the risen, living Body and Blood of Christ, of God made Man, which has elevated our nature and opened heaven to us and is given to us as the first fruits, the meat of the Sacrifice given to us as food since we are the priests of God. Thus the risen Body and Blood of Jesus give us life in the midst of death. They join us to Him so that we would follow Him through death, that we might face not only our own deaths but also the deaths of those we love with hope, with both tears and laughter. Already now He has begun to wipe away all our tears.
Just as the resurrection of the boy in Nain brought fear upon all those who witnessed it, so also the word of Christ and His Sacrament ought to bring fear upon us. This is the living God who punishes unbelief but rewards faith with eternity. All who were there glorified God, saying,” A great prophet has risen up among us” and “God has visited His people.” He visited them and turned their weeping into joy. He visits us even though we might not have even known that we were marching toward the grave, in our funeral processions. He visits us for the same reason, to take away the sorrow of our sins, the eternal death we deserved, and to give us the joy of the resurrection of our bodies that comes from faith in His words. He comes to point us to a greater reality, a Deeper Magic. Jesus lives.
In the name of Jesus. Amen.
This sermon is based upon a sermon for the same text by Rev. Mike Grieve