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For his confirmation, I asked Danny to write an essay under the title “What does it mean to be a Christian.” The first paragraph of his essay reads as follows:
“On June 13th, 1999, I became a Christian when I was baptized by pastor Nielsen. It wasn’t because it was pastor Nielsen who baptized me that I became a Christian, but because of what Holy Baptism is… Holy Baptism is God’s word combined with water. Baptism gives us eternal life and deliverance from death and the devil. In Baptism, God sees us as sinless. Even though Christ has given forgiveness of sins to all, a very long time ago, this is when the forgiveness of sins was given to me. In Baptism we are adopted as children of God and united with Christ who received the punishment for our sin and we received the benefits of His salvation and life.”
The service began with these words: “In Holy Baptism, Daniel was clothed with the robe of Christ's righteousness that covered all his sin. St. Paul says, "Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? “We were buried therefore with Him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with Him in a death like His, we shall certainly be united with Him in a resurrection like His.” (Romans 6:3-5)
If you listen carefully to what Danny wrote in his essay, what you realize is that he was simply making St. Paul’s precious words to the Romans, his own. That is the best that any of us can do. We simply make the Word and Promises of God our very own.
So, if we can make St. Paul’s word our own TODAY, just as Danny made them his own on his Confirmation Day, we are bound to be struck by the fact that we find ourselves right in the middle of a great mystery – a ‘mega musterion.”
We are here to mourn the death of Daniel Morren. But St. Paul says that Danny actually died on June 13th, 1999. He died while he was still alive, if you will. “Do you not know that all of us who were baptized into Christ were baptized into His death.”
And he not only did he die with Jesus in his baptism, but he was also raised with Jesus to “walk in newness of life.” Danny was raised from the dead 15 years before he was ever buried.
So, with that thought in mind, the text I’d like to hold up for our consideration and comfort this afternoon is from the gospel according to St. Luke, the 7th chapter.
“[Jesus] went to a town called Nain, and his disciples and a great crowd went with him. As he drew near to the gate of the town, behold, a man who had died was being carried out, the only son of his mother, and she was a widow, and a considerable crowd from the town was with her. And when the Lord saw her, he had compassion on her and said to her, “Do not weep.” Then he came up and touched the bier, and the bearers stood still. And he said, “Young man, I say to you, arise.” And the dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother.” (Luke 11:7:11-15)
For our purposes today, we’re going to add some details to the scene that simply make this story our own. Along with the grieving mother, there is also a grieving father and two older brothers. And that “considerable crowd” is made up of all the friends and neighbors and classmates and the congregation of brothers and sisters in Christ who knew the boy and who mourn his death.
The village of Nain is located just south of the Sea of Galilee. I was there in 1996 when I visited Israel. It’s just a small village. Now, it’s entirely Muslim. I can’t think of any reason that anyone would ever want to go to Nain, but our tour guide insisted we stop there.
There’s a small Christian chapel in the middle of the village. No one worships there because there are no Christians in Nain. But there is someone in charge of unlocking it when tour groups come to town. It’s good for the economy.
There was a box just inside the door marked “for upkeep and maintenance.” And even the donation box was in need of repairs.
There was a waist high, stone wall that went around the village. We went into through a narrow opening in the wall to enter the village and came out the same way.
As St. Luke paints the scene for us, we see that there is a funeral procession that was in motion. “A man who died was being carried out.” It’s a death march and the marchers are bearing a heavy burden. Death has claimed yet another victim. And the mouth of the grave is open and ready to swallow up another body.
But this is not the only movement. There is another “great crowd” which is coming from the opposite direction. This one is led by Jesus Christ. He is also an only son.
And it is right here at this narrow opening in the wall, that these two processions meet face to face. One is a procession of death. And the other is the procession of life.
To interrupt a funeral procession was something that was just not done. Even today, traffic stops and waits for the procession to proceed through the intersection. But Jesus steps right in front of the procession and stops the march to the grave.
Here is the great confrontation between death and life. One will have to give way to the other. Which will it be? Will life have to step aside, powerless to stop the forces of sin that lead to death? Or will death be overcome by life?
It is Jesus who speaks. And He speaks out of His ‘compassion.’
First, He speaks to those who mourn. “Do not weep.” Which sounds pretty insensitive if you ask me. Where’s the ‘compassion’ in that? Their hearts are broken. Not only has their son died, but along with him, something in them has died too.
But He is not done speaking. “Then He came to the bier and the bearers stood still. And he said, “Young man, I say to you, arise.”
That’s the Easter word that Jesus speaks onto the boy. “Egerthetai”. Be resurrected – in the IMPERATIVE. It’s a command!
Listen, if there’s one word in the Scriptures that you should be very familiar with, it’s this one, ARISE! Because one day, you’re going to hear this same Jesus speak that same word to. ARISE.
I know that this is sometimes hard for us to understand because we are so used to separating ‘word’ and ‘deed.’ “Words mean nothing. Deeds means everything,” we say. And for us, that basically true because all too often, its pretty hard to find a connection between what we say and what we do.
But with Jesus, that’s never true. His Word and Deed are always One, Inseparable thing. What He says, happens. For example: “Let there be light. And there was light.”
“Young man, I say to you, arise!”
The Church Fathers loved to say that the reason that if Jesus hadn’t singled out this child, “Young man, I say to YOU, arise!”, every dead body in the cemetery at Nain would have sprang up from the grave.
There are only three instances of Jesus raising the dead that are recorded in the gospels. And in each case, He addresses the subject individually. To Jairus’ daughter He says, “I say to you little girl, arise!” To the brother of Mary and Martha He says, “Lazarus, come out.”
And the dead child heard the voice of His Creator and Redeemer, His Lord and His Savior. He heard the voice of Jesus calling Him out of death and into life.
Jesus had made the bold statement to the crowds, “Truly, truly I say to you, an hour is coming, and is now here, when THE DEAD WILL HEAR THE VOICE OF THE SON OF God, and those who hear will live.” (John 5:25). In the village of Nain, that HOUR came for this son.
So, if you have ever wondered what it’s like when you die, let it be seen in this and the other two examples we mentioned that whatever else death includes, it most certainly includes the ability to hear the voice of Jesus calling him out of death and into life.
Jesus said, “My sheep HEAR MY VOICE, and I know them, and they follow me.” (John 10:27). His sheep hear His voice even in death. And they follow Him into death and from death into life.
And at the sound of His voice, “the dead man sat up and began to speak.” Like I said, His Word and His deed cannot be separated.
Luther says that Jesus wakes this child up from death with greater ease than his mother was able to wake him up to go to school.
“The dead man sat up and began to speak.” Don’t you just wish we knew what the boy “began to speak.”
Do we dare to think he SAT UP and BEGAN TO SPEAK to his parents and brothers and the great crowd, “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? “We were buried therefore with Him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.”
No wonder Jesus said, “Do not weep.”
So, what does this story from long, long ago, about a boy in a middle-eastern village far, far away have to do with us; especially us, here today? In short, everything. The Holy Spirit has given us this Word for us to make our own.
I think that there’s a good reason why Luke doesn’t give us the names of either the mother or the son. We’re supposed to make this story our own and fill in our own names. The boy of course is Danny. Even in death, he hears the voice of His Lord and Good Shepherd calling him to life. Already, his soul is in heaven. His body is in the ground with all the other bodies buried before him, all together, awaiting that final HOUR when all the dead in Christ will hear the voice of the Lord – ARISE. What a scene that will be.
And Jesus’ word, “do not weep” is His word to us. Here is a word that will take some time to have it’s full effect. But it will.
Jesus’ Word and Deed to Danny, to us, have been sealed together into ONE, INSEPERABLE, DIVINE COMMAND by His blood. And it’s right here were we get to a story in the bible that we cannot make our own. Because, in fact, this is the story about our life that Jesus has made HIS OWN.
On the cross, Jesus made our story, His own. He took all of our sins and made them His own. He died our death to sin in our place. He went to the grave in our place. And on the 3rd day, He ‘arose’ from His grave to live forever, all so that “we too may walk in newness of life.”
In his essay, Danny wrote, “to be a Christian means to believe in Christ and that Christ saved us from our sins through his battle for us on the cross.” He was just making the Word of God his own. It’s the best any of us can do.