More Than a Wordplay
So a coffin rolls out of a hearse on the way up a hill. Down the hill the coffin goes. A cop tries to stop it but can't. A firetruck tries to block its way, but fails. It rolls on despite roadblocks and barricades. Finally, it rolls into a drugstore and hits the counter. The lid opens, the corpse sits up, and asks the pharmacist, "Do you have something to stop this coffin?" There's more than a wordplay here. Does anyone have anything to stop coffins?
A widow's might will do it. Not "mite" as later on in Luke when another widow will give her last two mites into the temple treasury. No the might of this widow is m-i-g-h-t. And what is it? Nothing more than tears. Salty water running down her cheeks.
She is a focal point of this text. Her plight is described with all the pathos that TV news looks for on the scene of a tragedy. The dead man was young. He was her only son and probably her only child. She was a widow. The crowd was accompanying her not the dead man. Jesus was looking at her and had deep compassion on her not the crowd of mourners. He said to her, "Don't cry." And after raising the boy Jesus gives him back to her.
I'm not saying you can cry Jesus into your life with enough tears. I am saying He is already there before the first teardrop falls. I'm saying I know the answer to the question that song asks, "What becomes of the brokenhearted?" According to Psalm 34:18, "The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit." Psalm 147 says the Lord, "heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds." Jesus quotes Isaiah 61 to describe His ministry, "He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted."
There's more than a wordplay about the might of a widow. We're interested in stopping a coffin. Jesus' answer is, "I'll take a bier." That is not b-e-e-r, but b-i-e-r. The insert paraphrases coffin' because we know what that means. The Greek is bier which is a framework of poles with cloth in between. A stretcher would be a better picture than a coffin, but coffin is what we need to convey the creepiness.
The funeral industry within my ministry switched from calling burial boxes caskets' to coffins' trying to leave the squeamish feeling of casket behind. Of course, the squeamishness that was with caskets now is attached to coffins, but something was left behind. Look up the word casket." It's a place for storing something precious to you.
Some of you are thinking. Coffin, casket, stretcher, or bier, I'm not squeamish. Perhaps not. Most are. That's why most funeral homes don't take you into the room with all the coffins when you select one. No, you look at pictures or videos. For the Old Testament Church, there was real ceremonial defilement attached to coffins, biers, anyplace the dead were placed. A priest could defile himself for only a dead blood relative or his wife. The High Priest couldn't even do so for his parents. But what does Jesus do. He says, "I'll take that bier now," and touches it.
Get a few things straight. God said to His Old Testament Church you defiled yourself by touching anything connected to the dead. That really happened. If I say, "Don't touch that hot stove," and you do, you really will be burned. Jesus touched the hot stove and wasn't burned. Jesus touched the dead and wasn't defiled. Let this be a cliff-hanger for a moment. See the whole picture first.
Luke describes it in vivid, confrontational terms. Last week the Lord incarnate snatched a sick-slave from the jaws of death. Crowds of people are now streaming behind the Lord of Life. He's approaching a narrow town gate where Death isn't taking a holiday but is taking away a young man from a widow woman. A crowd is with the Lord of Life and a crowd is with the Prince of Death who's going to blink in this game of chicken? Sure Jesus could snatch someone out of the jaws of death, but could He do anything once the person had been swallowed to stop the coffin?
If you've ever been around someone who has never cleaned wild game before, they are squeamish about cutting and gutting. I would think it's the same with first year nurses and doctors. Everyone is squeamish to some degree with all things death. Not Jesus. He touches the coffin and then He speaks to the dead. I have been around enough grieving people to know this is ordinary. Most people talk to their dead especially right after they have died, but it doesn't do anything. Jesus speaks to the dead, and they obey.
Go back and look at all the resurrections in the Bible, and you will notice several things. Jesus always speaks to the dead. He says, "Lazarus come forth." He says, "Little girl, I say to you arise." And here, "Young man, I say to you, get up!" And for those of you who secretly fear that God might after all be some sort of women-hater, please note that nearly all the recorded instances of raising the dead were done for women.
However, there is even a more notable thing than this. Compare how Jesus raises the dead with how Elijah did. Augustine noted this. Christ raises someone from a bier as easily as we do someone from a bed. Prophets and apostles can only raise the dead with great effort and prayer. Jesus does it with just a word. Prophets and apostles evoke a power beyond themselves not within themselves to recall someone from the realm of the dead (Trench, 259).
This is in accordance with Jesus words in John 5. "For as the Father has life in Himself, so He has granted the Son also to have life in Himself." So when you eat His Body and drink His Blood you are eating and drinking Life. When you are baptized into His name you are baptized into Life. When you're forgiven in His name, your death gives place to Life. God's power of life is in the flesh and blood of the Man who is God to give Life to our fallen flesh and blood enabling us to reach God.
You know I left much out of this picture. God the Son took on flesh and blood from the womb of the Virgin Mary, because it was also God's flesh and blood it was holy. He did this for our sake's. There was no reason for God the Son to take on flesh and blood except to rescue us from the death and damnation we deserve not only for our countless sins but for the falleness we're born with.
To rescue us He had to reach us. So He reached all the way to our very beginnings in the womb and there took our place, our guilt, our sin, our death. And then He went on to live a spotless life. Though burdened with the guilt of all, the pain of all, the shame of all. He didn't lash out in anger the way I do when I'm in pain. No, He lived the perfect life and then went on to die the death a heinous, ungodly sinner like me or you deserve: tortured to the point of dying; judged worthy of the pit of hell, but He won. His perfect life could not be condemned. His innocent death paid for all sin, and so Jesus rose in flesh and blood to declare flesh and blood redeemed.
That's why Jesus can say, "I'll take that bier," and why are text records, a big visit of the God. The title of the 1958 Bible storybook I grew up with is Little Visits with God. I don't recommend it. It's a moralizing, how to be a Christian book. I couldn't bear reading it to my kids. In regards to our text, some don't think the crowd knows they have had a big visit from God. I do know Luke wants you to know it.
This is the first time Luke himself calls Jesus Lord and it has the article. He says, "When the Lord saw her." Second, the people are said to have praised the God saying that the God has come to help His people. And the Word that goes out throughout Judea which praised the God is said to be about Jesus.
The insert is paraphrasing when it says "God has come to help His people." It's literally, "The God did visit the people of Him." These words bring to mind God going down to the tower builders at Babel to find out what they were doing. They bring to mind God going down to Sodom to see if it was as bad as the cries against said it was. They bring to mind God hearing the cries of His enslaved people in Egypt or any of several times in the Book of Judges and then visiting them.
In one of my Army Reserve units a full time civilian would always say, "We need to prepare for an official visit from headquarters, and ask the chaplain. There's no such thing as a good visitation." It's like the phrase "Acts of God." They are never considered good. They are tornadoes, floods, hurricanes, and earthquakes. But visitations from God are always good for the people of God, especially the big ones.
The word normally translated "visited" is literally "looked upon." In the New Testament it's always of a gracious visitation. Even when God visited Babel it was for the sake of saving the Promised Seed. When God visited Sodom it was for the sake of rescuing Lot. And when God visited in the time of the Exodus and Judges it was to deliver His people who were crying to Him. This takes us back to the weeping widow in the beginning.
So what's the take away from this big visit of the God in the person of Christ? It's not to awaken in us a desire to see our dead loved ones brought back. Notice in all the resurrection accounts two of which were near or in graveyards the crowd doesn't clamor "raise mine now." This visit is much bigger than raising this or that individual. It is about what we sing of and glory in at Easter and ought to every Sunday. Death has been conquered. Jesus has taken out of the hand of the Devil the club, the whip, the fear, the sting of Death that the Devil uses on us to keep us in bondage all our days as Hebrews 2:14 says.
The Devil can no longer club you with Death. O he tries. He dangles it before your eyes and over your head as if it has not been defeated and swallowed by Christ. But remember the Devil always lies. Jesus has stopped your coffin, and that's no play on words. Welcome to the first day of the rest of your unending life. Amen.
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
The Third Sunday after Pentecost (20160605); Luke 7: 11-17