In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
“Blessed are you who weep,” Jesus says. Blessed are you who weep. Because to those who weep, Jesus can say, “Stop weeping.” “Stop weeping,” like He says to this crowd of mourners, carrying out a dead young man to be buried. The only son of his mother, who is also a widow. So now she is completely bereft: she has no husband, and now she has no son. To them—to the crowd—and to her, Jesus says, “Stop weeping.”
In the mouth of any other person, those words would be the height of thoughtlessness. If you or I were at a funeral, and we heard someone tell the family to stop weeping, we would cringe at the tactlessness. It seems to make light of their grieving in the midst of death. But Jesus has compassion on the mother. So He comes over and stops the funeral procession, and He says, “Stop weeping.” But He doesn’t stop there; He says, “Young man, I say to you, rise up.” And he does, and he begins to talk, perhaps in the middle of the sentence that was cut short when he died. And Jesus gives him back to his mother. When Jesus says “Stop weeping,” He is not just saying some sentimental words that He hopes will make the person feel better—like some of the things we say at funerals. We say things like, “She looks so peaceful,” – dead, but peaceful. Or, “He’s up there looking down on us; he’s playing cards or golfing or fishing, or whatever.” I saw a gravestone the other day that said, “Eternally gardening.” Somehow I doubt that was as pleasing to the person who had died as it was to the person who had it engraved. As much as that lady liked gardening, I doubt she wants to do it forever and ever, amen. We say those things because we want to say something comforting, but I suspect we say most of those things because we feel helpless in the face of death. What can we say? What can we do? So we make things up that don’t really do anything.
But when Jesus says words, they do something. He is the only one who is not helpless in the face of death. When Jesus says, “Stop weeping,” He actually does something to put an end to the cause of the weeping. He gives the son back to the mother. And when He does, the crowd is amazed, astounded, filled with the kind of excited fear you have when you see something you’ve never seen before. They say, “A great prophet has arisen among us,” and “God has visited His people.”
But what then? After all that, what’s the point? What now? Because since that miracle, people haven’t been dying at any slower a rate. Since then, people still die, and people still grieve. Many of you have known grief that is no less than that widowed mother. What about you? What about us? And perhaps once we’ve heard this nice story, we begin to feel a little like those disciples on the road to Emmaus. With Jesus walking beside them, though they don’t recognize Him, they tell Him what had happened that weekend. About Jesus of Nazareth, a man, a prophet, mighty in words and works. We had hoped that He was the one who was going to redeem His people. We had hoped… Or maybe you begin to ask some questions, like John the Baptizer, sitting in prison where he would die. He sends messengers to Jesus to ask Him, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we wait for someone else?” Is Jesus the coming one? Has God really visited His people?
And Jesus sends those same messengers back: “Tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind see, the deaf hear, the lame walk, the poor have good news preached to them, and the dead are raised.” There we see what Jesus is really doing. In the middle of the very good work of giving the son back to his mother, or—as we heard last week—the servant back to the centurion, Jesus is doing something far bigger. Or, rather, He is doing in miniature what He came to do completely. He is healing, and raising, and preaching to a few so that all might hear, and be healed, and be raised. Because He is on His own funeral procession, and He will let no one put a stop to it. He is going to the cross, and when He dies there, in the presence of His weeping mother, the question hangs in the dead air: Is He the coming one? Has God visited His people? We had hoped… And then God gives once and for all His answer, when He raises His Son from the dead, and gives Him back, not only to His mother, but to all people, all the grieving, all the weeping. He becomes helpless in the face of death so that He can put an end to it once and for all. How foolish and slow you are, He says to those disciples after His resurrection, to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Isn’t it necessary for the Son of Man to suffer these things and enter into His glory?
Blessed is the Lord, the God of Israel, because He has visited His people and worked redemption for them (1:68)! Because of the compassionate mercy of our God, the sunrise from on high has visited us (1:78)! The sun dawned from on high, went into the ground, and rose up on the third day. Blessed indeed, are you who mourn now, because you will laugh. Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on, because Jesus will say to them, “I say to you, rise up!” He didn’t come to resuscitate a few bodies, and dry a few tears. He came to raise all the dead, put an end to the seemingly eternal funeral procession of all people, and to wipe away tears from every eye. While your bodies are dying, while my body is dying, even now, Jesus is giving you His eternal life in His own body and blood. You’ve already died with Him in baptism, and your life is hidden with Him in God. So that when you die, and sin is finally extinguished in your flesh, then Jesus can say, “Rise up!” And you will. And He will forever put an end to the cause of weeping and mourning; He will wipe every tear from every eye; He will swallow up death forever, and you will wake up with Him in a new creation where sin, death, graves, and funerals are no more. Blessed are you who weep now, because He will say, “Stop weeping,” and you will laugh with joy in the resurrection. Blessed are you who die in the Lord now, because He will say, “I say to you, rise up!” And you will.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7).
– Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 6/4/16