Sixteenth Sunday after Trinity
We are in the midst of death. The death procession is all around us. We have come through one of the most destructive fire seasons in history; the Black Forest near the Springs has been ravaged by fire, and the land bears the scar that has the look of death. And this, merely a year after the fire across the interstate in Waldo Canyon (not to mention the many other fires that have burned around the state). Wednesday evening into Thursday the area was subjected to much rainfall and places experienced flooding, including the burn scarred areas down south. Life was washed away in those floods, especially for the person whose house collapsed on them, and others who succumbed to the flood waters. Four dead so far; 150 whose whereabouts are still unknown.
This past Wednesday we remembered a very deadly day in the history of our nation. It was just a year ago when terrorists stormed the American Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, killing the ambassador and three others, while 12 years previous to that many men and women were killed and gave their lives as terrorists flew planes into the towers of the World Trade Center, toppling them, into the Pentagon, and into a field in Pennsylvania. Of course, many more lives were taken in the warring that has occurred since then, as a result of these acts.
Certainly, we cannot begin to count the death toll of the countless tragedies that have happened since and long before these events. Auto accidents, train derailments, tornadoes, hurricanes, volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, tsunamis, murders and massacres, wars, abortions—death surrounds us. “Come quickly, Lord Jesus,” we are wont to pray; “See that you are not troubled; for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet,” He replies. (Matthew 24:6b)
Our own bodies testify to being in the midst of death. From the moment we take our first breaths, we slowly make our way to our final day. Along the way, we fall ill, scrape our knees or shed our blood in various ways, and break bones. Such fragile creatures are we, marching ever onward toward death and decay. Some of us die “naturally,” while others give in to horrific and painful diseases.
We are in the midst of death, and we cannot escape it. “All have sinned,” (Romans 3:23) St. Paul wrote, and, “The wages of sin is death.” (Romans 6:23a) “[T]hus death spread to all men, because all sinned...” (Romans 5:12b)
Now, we can spend all day—nay, a lifetime—enumerating the sins of man, others and your own. Yet, we will not find any one that particularly says, “For me, you shall die;” no, for every one and any one you shall die. You shall die because you sin. This is the condition you find yourself in. If the Word of God declares that all have sinned, then you have sinned, for you are part of all. “[T]hus death spread to all men,” even to you, “because all sinned...,” because you sinned! Your aches and pains and illnesses and loss all point to the fact that you have sinned—they are the preaching of the Law of God to you as you bear in your body the consequences of transgression. For, He tells you to do this, and you never do it, or not to do that, and you always do it. Dear sinner, death is your wage! You are as good as dead!
Such was the scene in the village of Nain. There, a widow marches through town having lost all that she had. Her husband had died and all that was left for her livelihood was a single son. Now, the young man is being carried out of town in a coffin to the place of the dead outside of town. His death was a veritable death sentence for his mother, spare for the possible kindness of her friends or if she had any relatives remaining who could take her in. What did the young man do to deserve to die? What did his mother do to deserve her death sentence? Well, like you, dear hearers, they have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory; death spread to them because they sinned. Now, there isn’t one sin that they committed to which they can point and say that for that one particularly they deserved their sentence, yet their sentences are deserved for any one sin they committed. They died or received their death sentence because they sinned. That is the condition they found themselves in.
There is no greater preacher of God’s Law than the consequences of the curse that He pronounced on Adam and all creation. God called it all cursed—the blessing of life and health and order and even prosperity were removed from creation, and from that moment all of it, every single little atom and electron and quark moved toward chaos and destruction. That you participate in this curse and suffer the effects of it tells you that the blessedness of creation as God had intended it is not with you. You sin and this creation is sinful and cursed; so you suffer and die. The widow of Nain and her son were sinners, so they suffered and died.
Into this death procession in Nain marches the procession of life. Jesus Christ is life, and this life is the light of men. (cf. John 1:4) Having compassion on the widow, Jesus touches the young man’s coffin and speaks. “Young man, I say to you, arise.” The young man rises from his coffin, and Jesus presents him to his mother. That’s Jesus at work: calling life out of death and bringing light to darkness.
Dear hearers, we are in the midst of life. As our death procession moves ever forward to the day when we take our last breath, we are gathered here by God the Holy Spirit, where Jesus is for you. Yes, Jesus, being very God, is everywhere; but here, in this place, around His Word and Sacraments, He is present specifically for you. To what end? To bring you out of death to life, out of the darkness of sin and into the light of His grace!
By the grace of God, for the sake of Christ, you confess your lost condition. You say the same that the Word of God says of you: that you are bound in chains and lost in sin and that you cannot free yourself. And the Word of God declares to you that you are freed, for the sake of Jesus Christ. The Word of God declares to you that your chains are removed from you and that you are found, for the sake of Jesus Christ. The Word of God declares to you that Jesus has joined Himself to you, taken your sin upon Himself, and bore it in His own death upon the cross. For His sake, Jesus died the death due you and gave you His life in its place. For His sake, Jesus descended into the darkness of hell and raised you into the light of His glorious presence. This is yours, dear hearers, by way of you Baptism into Christ’s death, and given to you again and again as you hear the words of Holy Absolution without any merit or worthiness in you or cost to you.
Death could not keep its hold on the Author of life, for just as He had raised the widow’s son in Nain, so on the third day, Jesus burst the fetters of the grave and rose again to life. Dear baptized, Jesus’ resurrection is your resurrection. Hear St. Paul:
For if we have been united together in the likeness of His death, certainly we also shall be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin. For he who has died has been freed from sin. Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him, knowing that Christ, having been raised from the dead, dies no more. Death no longer has dominion over Him. (Romans 6:5-9)
If you are joined to Jesus Christ, and you are by way of Baptism, then since death has no dominion over Him, it has no dominion over you. Daily, by confession and absolution, you are raised to newness of life in Christ, to live before your Father in righteousness and purity forever. As Life prevailed over death in Nain that day, so Life prevails over your death so that the life you now live, you live by faith in the Son of God, who loved you and gave Himself for you. (cf. Galatians 2:20)
Since Life has prevailed over death, death is now a captive enemy. As you by sin have been bound in chains, now death is bound in chains by the mastery of Jesus Christ, the Author of life. Now, while we wend our ways to our last breaths, which is merely a physical death to life in this sinful world, we do so confident in the promise of Jesus Christ:
Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also. And where I go you know, and the way you know. (John 14:1-4)
Death is now used as the gateway for you to eternal life. You die to life in this sinful world to rise again to life eternal where Jesus is. “And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.” (Revelation 21:4)
And Jesus says you know the way. He said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.” (John 14:6) The way to the Father is Jesus, who died and rose again. To get to the Father, to get to where Jesus is, is to go through death and resurrection—death and new life.
Dear hearers, this is not simply death at the end of your days, but a daily dying and rising to newness of life. Daily, as you are in the midst of death, you die as you are given confession. “I have done this where I should not have. I have not done that where I should have.” In doing this, you die to yourself. And Jesus says to you, “Young man, I say to you, arise.” You are brought out of death and into life, daily as you daily hear him say to you, “Young man, I say to you, arise.”
This is your daily foretaste of what you will see on the last day. Ultimately, having died to life in this sin-filled world, the trumpet will sound and you will hear the voice of your Savior, Jesus Christ, say again, “Young man, I say to you, arise.” All the dead will burst forth from the grave. You and all believers in Christ will be raised to everlasting life, to live before your Father in heaven in righteousness and purity for all eternity, ever feasting at the banquet that is the feast of victory for our God and His Lamb.
“Weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning.” (Psalm 30:5b KJV)
For now, it is enough that you hear and believe as Jesus your Savior says to you daily, “Young man, I say to you, arise.” Those are the words for which you have been gathered here to hear. This is the grace of God to you. “Young man, I say to you, arise.” When Jesus says that to you now, He says that you are forgiven for all of your sins.