I Say, Rise!
“Young man, I say to you, rise!”(Luke 7.14b) We might wish we all could invoke the amazing power of Jesus’ words after three days in which 64 people were shot, leaving six of them dead during a beautiful, sunny Memorial Day weekend on the streets of Chicago. But you and I are not Jesus.
What’s Jesus up to? We are told the corpse was “the only son of his mother,” which meant that this woman from Nain faced double jeopardy. She was already a widow, but now she was also childless. Translation—as if her fragile life wasn’t hard enough, now she will fall even further down the economic scale of protection and provision. All she had to live for and live by was gone.
So we can easily understand why Jesus is overcome with compassion. Scripture says literally, his viscera flutters upon seeing the widow and her dead son. He tells her ‘don’t cry’ and commands the young man to get up. Less obvious to us is how willing Jesus was to break the deeply held religious rules to help this woman and her son.
It was thought the Hebrew Bible forbid contact with dead bodies. In both the first and second readings, Jesus and Elijah shrug off becoming ritually unclean. In both stories, Jesus and Elijah literally reach across the boundary between what is acceptable to God and what is unacceptable with their hand and body so that life may be restored.
In fact, the bible tells us Jesus did this three times. He raises this son of the widow of Nain (Luke 7:14); He raised the little daughter of Jairus, the leader of the synagogue, (Luke 8:54); and he raised his friend Lazarus, the brother of Mary and Martha (John 11:43). Notice, all these were raised only to die again. The promise of eternal life in Christ for us all includes death. Death is not eliminated, but now, death has no power to eliminate life. “Death has been swallowed up in victory.” (1 Corinthians 15:54)
Jesus isn’t just dazzling us here but wants us all to learn something. If we step back to widen our view we notice Jesus has only just finished the Sermon on the Mount (which in Luke’s gospel is called the Sermon on the Plain). Jesus is trying to teach the disciples and the crowd following them how to be good disciples—and he is loosing patience.
‘Listen to me, follow me’, Jesus says. “Can the Blind lead the blind?” (6:39) “Students are not above their teachers,” (6:40),“Why do you notice the sliver in your friend’s eye, but overlook the timber in your own eye? (6:41). . . each tree is known by its fruit (vs. 43). Figs are not gathered from thorns, nor are grapes picked from brambles.” (vs. 44) Finally, Jesus pleads “Why do you call me Master, Master, and not do what I tell you?” Do what I tell you, Jesus says, and your life will be like a house built on a rock, not on shifting sands (vs. 48). I say to you, rise!
What to do when your students just don’t get it? Right—Jesus continues teaching using two object lessons. Each takes aim at blasting apart their narrow worldview. The story about the widow of Nain occurs only in Luke, who places it right after a story about another obscure outsider, the Roman centurion who we read about last Sunday. After healing the centurion’s slave in Capernaum, Jesus, the disciples, and the crowd walk 25 miles southwest to the village of Nain.
So imagine the scene. There are two large crowds are on the move. One is headed out the city gate. It is centered on the grieving mother, a poor widow and her dead son. The other crowd approaching the city is filled with hope and expectation and is focused on Jesus. It is a meeting between the creative, renewing power of the Resurrection and the destructive power of Death.
Jesus seems to be saying, you can either walk through this mortal life following the drumbeat of death or the rhythms of life. I say to you, choose life. I say to you Rise! Rise –through the resurrection of your hearts and minds. Rise so your joy may be complete. Rise, through unity with the One in Three. Rise in fellowship with one another and with your brothers and sisters around the world so you may dwell in the living shelter of the Lord forever.
This is the kind of message that has real meaning for us. Life isn’t fair. But lucky for us, grace isn’t fair either. God stands ready to remove all the defects of our character. God stands ready to wash away our shortcomings. Even now, God is replacing the logic of death driven by fear, with the logic of life animated by love. Only God can soothe the fever for vengeance and retaliation that fuels the never-ending cycle of violence that begets violence. Only God can create in me a clean heart and restore a right spirit within me (Psalm 51) I say to you, rise up today and live! Let mercy and forgiveness be your constant companions and the abundance of eternal life give you peace.
Later, Luke says that in the crowd with Jesus were two of John the Baptist’s disciples. John the Baptist—now in prison—sent them to find out whether Jesus is the “expected one” (vs. 19). In answer, Jesus repeats the words from Isaiah, which he read in the synagogue at the beginning of his ministry. (Chapter 4) “Go report to John what you have seen and heard: the blind see again, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have the good news preached to them” (vs. 22). In other words, the kingdom of God is upon us. Something is happening now in Christ Jesus. The reign of righteousness, peace, healing, justice, and transcendence is at hand. Again I say to you, rise.
This is how your life is being returned to you and how our city is being healed. “This life, therefore, is not godliness but the process of becoming godly, not health but getting well, not being but becoming, not rest but exercise. We are not now what we shall be, but are on the way. The process is not yet finished, but it is actively going on. This is not the goal but it is the right road. At present, everything does not gleam and sparkle, but everything is being cleansed.” (Martin Luther)
It’s true. This life offers no end to our grief –but is almost a perfect recipe for it. This life offers no formulas, no methods, but only a way of living. This life offers blessing for the poor, the hungry, those who weep, and those who are hated, reviled and excluded on account of the Son of Man (Luke 6:20-26) We follow the path marked by way of the cross. Rise, Jesus says, take up your cross and follow. Let us walk together from death into life, from fear into joy, from hatred into peace. Amen.