The Third Sunday after Pentecost
LUKE 7: 11 Soon afterwards he went to a town called Nain, [means “lovely” or “pleasant” (Na’im). Though the location is uncertain, the site is probably the modern Arab town of Nein, six miles southeast of Nazareth. Only time mentioned anywhere] and his disciples and a large crowd went with him. 12 As Jesus approached the gate [Archeology – walls so there was a gate] of the town, a man who had died was being carried out.
In the First Century the dead Necropolis (city of dead) were always outside the walls of a town. There is a reason we do not call our burial place down the street, the Saint John’s Necropolis. Christians took the name Cemetery as the name of our burial place.
Why? It comes from the word for sleeping – our dead or not so much dead as they are sleeping, waiting for the trumpet on that great day. That being the case, Christians buried their dead right next to the Church door.
Jesus sees what he sees:
- He was his mother’s only son,
- and she was a widow; She has lost her protector for the second time…
- and with her was a large crowd from the town. [there is a shadow of things to come: The Virgin Mary, the Widow Mary also lost her son on Good Friday – though Jesus gave her a new son from the cross.
A procession of death met a procession of life.
- According to Jewish burial customs,
- the body was washed, eyes closed, mouth bound shut, anointed with spices, then wrapped in a linen cloth, laid on a plank, bier, or an open coffin..
- Burial took place within 24 hours to avoid witnessing decomposition.
- The poor were buried in shallow graves in potters fields, the wealthy in tombs.
13 When the Lord first time Luke calls Jesus – LORD- saw her, he had compassion [his heart went out to her] for her and said to her, “Do not weep.” According to tradition, the next of kin walked ahead of the body, so Jesus would have met her first.
At this moment when hope was all gone… Jesus met the procession and seeing the widow bent over in grief, his heart went out to her (splankna) and he did what anyone would do if they could, he removed the cause for her bereavement.
- His feelings welled up in him, and he was moved out of himself toward someone who was overcome by life.
- Jesus Himself was the son of a widow [scene by the gate is a shadow of Good Friday and beyond]
- For the first time, Luke refers to Jesus as the Lord, particularly fitting as he exercises power over death itself.
14 Then he came forward and touched the bier, and the pall-bearers stood still. This is very illuminating: You do not touch dead bodies or things associated with them! If you touch it then you are ritually unclean. But notice the reversal here: here is the comic moment, comedy, at a funeral?
Not slapstick, beloved, comedy. It’s this way! No, it’s after all and every one laughs. This is the theme of every classic cartoon – the steamroller runs over Donald Duck – he’s flatter than a pancake – but no, he pops back – this reversal is at the very core of the Good News. So here’s the joke (if you can’t get the joke you will never get the Gospel as Frederick Buechner put put it once.).
Now, here it comes, you are defiled by touching a corpse – but only if the corpse stays dead! (Jesus’ authority reverses the defilement, “cleansing” the corpse through Christ’s power over death.) And he said, “Young man, I say to you, rise!” 15 The dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother.
Herbert O’Driscoll, one of the greatest Anglican preachers of my lifetime, says that we look in two directions in all sermons:
- First: THEM, THEN, THERE
- Second: WE, HERE, NOW (Where is the now in the sermon?)
I pondered that question for a couple of days and then this question occurred to me?
How many of you watch The Walking Dead?
I keep thinking I will but I just can’t make myself to it. What’s with Zombies? I confess I don’t like zombies. Their rising popularity is a mystery to me. Vampires I get, werewolves I get and ghosts I get, zombies not so much.
No, I am not a bigot! I will not accept the moniker of prejudice either. In point of fact, some of my best friends are dead. I expect to be dead myself. However, if you are dead it seems the decent thing to do would be to stay that way (or at least until Jesus’ appearing in glory).
Psychologists seem to think that to see or dream that you are a zombie, suggests that you are physically and/or emotionally detached from people and situations that are currently surrounding you. You are feeling out of touch. Alternatively, a zombie means that you are feeling dead inside. You are just going through the motions of daily living. To dream that you are attacked by zombies, indicate that you are feeling overwhelmed by forces beyond your control. You are under tremendous stress in your waking life. Alternatively, the dream represents your fears of being helpless and overpowered.
I can testify that many among us, particularly the young adults, feel that they will not do as well as their parents. The myth of inevitable progress has failed. No more can we assume that the next generation of Americans will do better than the last generation just because they are the next generation of Americans. A lot of people feel half dead, walking dead and decomposing as they go.
As I think spiritually, I suggest that the rise of the undead seems a creepy secular facsimile of resurrection (and not a very good one either). Zombie movies may be entertaining but they are really very bad theology. We believe in the resurrection of the body, but those God raises are completely raised not living dead but living and not dead at all!
That is the point that Luke makes in the last half of chapter 7: you don’t think there is any hope and yet I’m here to tell you that even at the grave of the only son of a “widow-woman” (as folks say in Alabama) there is hope.
16 Fear seized all of them; and they glorified God, saying, “A great prophet has risen among us!” and “God has looked favorably on his people!” 17 This word about him spread throughout Judea and all the surrounding country.
A famous preacher named Mosley once looked into the Bible to see how Jesus did funerals only to learn that Jesus didn’t do funerals! Jesus did resurrections! On that day on the way to grave just past the city gate at Nain, compassion flowed from Jesus, love wrapped around that widow and touched that young man and he sat straight up talking a mile a minute – You see that The Rev. Mosley was right Jesus didn’t do funerals just resurrections.
All that Jesus did was done by his obedience to God. Jesus was so open to God that God’s power God’s love simply flowed through him like water through an empty hose. We are called to available to God – open like an empty hose – is to water – “These things and greater shall you do because I go to the Father. And if I go to the Father the Comforter, the Spirit will come, and when he comes he will dwell with you and in you.
When the community of faith is filled with the Holy Spirit it too sits up and begins to talk! All sorts of things happen. We are not as those who have no hope. We don’t need to be no stinkin’ zombies when we are raised to newness of life by our Lord Jesus.