Sixteenth Sunday after Trinity
“A Preview of Coming Events”
Rev. Philip G. Meyer, Pastor Emeritus
St. Luke 7.11-17
19 September 2021
SOLI DEO GLORIA!
The Bible records many previews: The Exodus of Israel from Egypt is a preview of what Jesus would do in his own “exodus,” that is, his death and resurrection. Luke tells us that Moses and Elijah were discussing that with Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration. And while Jesus’ Exodus is the fulfillment of Israel’s Exodus from Egypt, it is also the preview/fulfillment of your own. Specifically, it becomes the preview of your resurrection from the dead on the last day.
Our readings today feature two previews! Elijah raised the widow’s son in our Old Testament reading and Jesus raised the widow’s son in our Gospel reading. When Jesus raised this widow’s son he gives us a preview of his own resurrection and our own! Two weeks ago Vicar preached on the Cleansing of the Ten Lepers, also a preview. But why are there so many previews of miraculous events such as this one? In the very next section of Luke’s Gospel we find out. The disciples of John the Baptizer heard of all the miracles Jesus was performing, especially this one, because the reports spread like wildfire around “the whole of Judea and all the surrounding country” [Luke 7.17]. John’s disciples reported it to John and John sent word to ask Jesus if he were the Christ. Jesus responded by pointing to the signs that the Christ would do when he came:
“Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have good news preached to them. And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.” (Luke 7:22-23, ESV)
In each one of these miracle accounts Jesus got involved with the suffering of human life. As bad as deafness and its attendant muteness, leprosy, hemorrhaging that will not stop, there is only one condition worse: death. Sin has disrupted all of human life. Its traces can be found everywhere. As we age life gets harder and harder. So reminds the Psalmist,
For all our days pass away under your wrath;
we bring our years to an end like a sigh.
10 The years of our life are seventy,
or even by reason of strength eighty;
yet their span is but toil and trouble;
they are soon gone, and we fly away. [Psalm 90.9-10]
The widow at Zarephath and the widow at Nain had something in common. Both had an only son and both women lost their sons to death. A sadder scene could not be imagined because there was no financial security net in those days. Without an adult son to care for her a very hard life was her immediate future. She had no one else. No home health care, no monthly social security checks, no life insurance policies. She would eke out a hard living. She would be dependent upon the on-again-off-again charity of others who may or may not be able to help her.
The ten lepers approached Jesus, seeking him out for help. Here Jesus encountered a funeral procession with a large crowd as it wound its way out to the cemetery it. A large crowd was following Jesus. The two crowds met. Jesus sized up the situation. Jesus was moved. Luke uses an unusual word to describe what Jesus felt.It is a word that describes the inward parts of the human body, like the heart, liver, lungs, and kidneys. The Jews felt that the emotions were located in these organs. In English we would say “his heart went out to her.” But literally one would feel it in one’s stomach. “Gut-wrenching” might be more appropriate. Jesus felt this woman’s pain deep within his own body.
Then Jesus said to her, “Do not weep.” How many times have we heard Jesus tell people not to cry? Jesus becomes a sponge for this woman’s grief and tears. He knows the horrible things that befall us in this world. Jesus has that same compassion for your anxieties and pains. Whatever your situation Jesus knows and feels those pains with you. He may not do what you want but he will stay with you and give you what you need most, his forgiveness and everlasting mercy. He will get into the middle of your needs and stay with you.
What happened next is astounding. Jesus approached the coffin or bier. An observant Jew would catch it, but modern day man misses it altogether. You most likely would have skipped over it. Jesus “touched the bier.” He touched it! Here is something no observant Jew would do because touching a dead body or the platform on which it lay rendered a person religiously unclean. Go back into the Law given through Moses and this is what you find:
“Whoever touches the dead body of any person shall be unclean seven days. He shall cleanse himself with the water on the third day and on the seventh day, and so be clean. But if he does not cleanse himself on the third day and on the seventh day, he will not become clean.” (Numbers 19:11-12, ESV)
The person who failed to cleanse himself after this elaborate ritual was excluded from the community of Israel. Perhaps this is the real reason that the priest and the Levite failed to help the victim in Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan. They didn’t want to become unclean and be excluded from their duties at the temple.
Yet, here is a God who gets his hands “dirty,” so to speak. Jesus touches the bier, but something amazing happens. Jesus does not himself become unclean because he speaks the life-giving word, “Young man, I say to you, arise.” And this dead man is no longer dead, but alive! He is no longer unclean, but clean. Jesus has absorbed all of that uncleanness of death into his own body and cleansed it. It is A Preview of Coming Events!
Whenever Christ touches anything he makes it clean, whether it is a sick person who was excluded from the community because of his uncleanness or whether it is some other malady. When Jesus touches them, or in the case of the woman where she touched Jesus’ robe, cleansing takes place. The leper was immediately made clean by Christ’s word, again fit for life among the people of God.
All of these miracles point forward to a coming event: Christ’s death and resurrection. Jesus proves his power over death, and from that we should take comfort in him and not fear death. The power of holiness and life is in Jesus Christ, for it is the holy body of Jesus, the Word made flesh, that brings salvation to this dead man and to all of us. When Jesus confronts uncleanness he purifies it by his sinlessness. When Jesus took on your sins, indeed, the sins of the whole world, he made the world clean.
“He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.” (1 John 2:2, ESV)
Jesus’ cleansing is enough for the sins of all mankind because his death was enough to pay for all sins. Thus, those who are connected to Christ are cleansed, made whole, given new life.
Where does your cleansing take place? Where does Jesus touch your deadness? There in the waters of Holy Baptism as the pastor applied water “In the Name of the Father and of the ✠ Son and of the Holy Spirit.” There you were baptized—cleansed, made alive!—by the flesh of Jesus Christ. There all your sins were washed away and you were given the life of Christ. Paul says that you were baptized into the death and resurrection of Christ. The sad situation of your impending eternal death was reversed. You were given life! It is not substantially different than what Jesus said to this young man at Nain or Jairus’ little girl [Mark 5.41]: “Young man, little girl, I say to you, arise.” And you began to live, truly. You began living a life that will never end.
That life is nourished and sustained in Holy Communion where Christ continues to touch you with his true body and blood. In fact, he puts his life-giving body and blood into your mouth and speaks into your ears the sweetest words any sinner can hear, “given and shed for you for the forgiveness of your sins” [DS Service of the Sacrament]. The Church sings about this Sacrament as “a foretaste of the feast to come,” that is, the feast of salvation in heaven where all the saints and angels are gathered around the nearer presence of Christ. In fact, it is another “Preview of Coming Events!” Sunday after Sunday our Lord gives us this preview so that we will not forget that he will bring it all to fulfillment, just as he has promised, just as he has done so many times. Here Jesus touches you over and over and raises to life again.
Those who witnessed the resurrection of this young man were seized by fear and wonder. They rightly concluded that “God has visited his people!” How true it was—and is for you, too! Jesus visits you again today! Christ himself is here to touch you, cleanse you, restoring your spiritual life, and give you yet another “Preview of Coming Events.”
The appointed Psalm for today focuses our response:
“Sing praises to the Lord, O you his saints, and give thanks to his holy name.” (Psalm 30:4, ESV)
“You have turned for me my mourning into dancing; you have loosed my sackcloth and clothed me with gladness, that my glory may sing your praise and not be silent. O Lord my God, I will give thanks to you forever!” (Psalm 30:11-12, ESV)
In the name of the Father and of the ✠ Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.