Comfort is something we all like. We like to be nice and comfortable at home, and prefer that at work too. We want to be comfortable with everything we do and not be exposed to anything that will take us out of our “comfort zone.” It’s uncomfortable to think things can change at any moment.
But comfort is also something we need. Toddlers need mommy to comfort them when they get a boo-boo. Kids need comfort in the face of bullies. We need comfort when friends get mad at us, when our personal space is invaded, when we or a loved one gets sick, and most certainly when a loved one dies. Yes, then we need great comfort.
That’s what the lady in today’s Gospel needed. I’m sure she and her husband wanted to have many children, but God only gave them one. Perhaps her husband died soon after his son was born; we’re told she was a widow. So she’d had to bury him already. That was bad enough. Now she had to do what no parent wants to do: bury her child. She had had high hopes for him; he was going to take care of her . . . and now it was not to be.
The people did what they could for her. They went with her to the tomb. That was about all they could do. They couldn’t really afford to help and support her. Their homes were too small, their pocketbooks too thin. Like us, they just didn’t quite know what to say and whatever they did say, it just didn’t seem quite right. They’d go back home to their lives, but she would go back home alone and life would never be the same again.
The funeral procession thought it was going to the cemetery. The trip wouldn’t be long, perhaps no longer than a walk from here to Verona Cemetery. There’s no way you’d stop a funeral procession. But there is 1 Man Who dared to stop one, 1 Man Who did stop one, 1 Man Who will someday end them for all time. He’s a Man Who’s been there and come back, Who did what He had to do to transform death for us. His Name is Jesus. He stopped that procession. He grabbed the bier to stop it, and then spoke to bring the boy back to life. Then He gave the boy back to his mommy, who was no doubt the happiest mother in history.
We don’t know how much longer they lived. I’m sure they had great comfort and joy that day and for a long time. I’m sure he cared for her and buried her. Perhaps he even thought on that day about how his first funeral procession had been stopped. I suspect they eventually put him in that tomb, and there he waits with all the faithful to receive the reward of everlasting life.
Death is not a comforting thing. We’ve all experienced it. Sometimes it’s expected. Sometimes it isn’t. Nobody likes it. Many try to sugar coat it or make it something other than it is, but that’s just because they don’t like what it really is. It’s judgment. It’s a final reminder that we all are sinners and that we die for that very reason. The wages of sin is death. Every human is a sinner, therefore it comes at any time.
But why must it come? God told Adam if he ate the forbidden fruit, he would die. Adam was supposed to live forever, but if he rebelled he’d be harshly punished. He ate, and not quite 1000 years later he died. He’d already lost at least 1 son, Abel, to death. Perhaps Eve died before him too. Certainly they’d seen many animals die, at least as sacrifices. Every time he was reminded that it was his fault. Death is his fault. But God also wanted to teach him every time that The Death of Another would free him from his death sentence. The Death of Another would give life back.
You too must die. You too will enter the grave. You too are a sinner. You were conceived without faith in God. The first sin, the primary sin, the sin that infected Adam, the sin we inherited from him, is unbelief, no trust in our heavenly Father. Life is receiving from Him what is good. No trust in Him must lead to death because it doesn’t let Him care for us as He desires. Sin = not trusting Him. Sin brings death.
In the midst of life we are in death. Our sins have stirred God’s wrath. Powers of hell want to overtake us. Utter woe and sin want to oppress us. Who shall help us? Who will be our Refuge with grace to bless us? Who will save us lest we perish in the bitter pangs of death? Who will save us from the terror of the fiery pit of hell?
There is a heart moved with tenderness that pities us in our distress. His precious Blood was shed to win full atonement for our sin. Who is He? He is the holy and righteous God, the holy and mighty God, the holy and all-merciful Savior, the eternal Lord God! His Name is Jesus, and He’s the Man Who stopped that funeral procession in Nain. He’s the God who will soon stop all funeral processions.
For this Man Who stopped the funeral procession walked in His own funeral procession to Jerusalem. For He rode in on a donkey in order to die. He willingly bore His Cross with no complaint down His Way of Sorrows until the Romans put it on Simon of Cyrene, and then He willingly with no complaint was nailed onto it to die.
Death took Him. Death thought it had won, that it had killed God the Immortal. It thought it had swallowed Him whole and was going to enjoy digesting Him. But He was a thorn in its belly. It had to spit Him out. And when it spit Him out, He burst it wide open. He destroyed all its power. Death could not hold Him. Therefore it cannot hold you.
Death cannot hold you. Death was sin’s wages. But Christ was punished for all your sins. Since He was punished for them, then you can’t be punished for them. Death will have to give you up when He orders it to on the last day. On that day a great procession will come out of the cemeteries. All the bodies will rise. The ungodly will go down into everlasting death, but the faithful will join our Lord in life everlasting.
What does that make death now for you, dear Christian? Now death is your entrance into paradise. It is your rescue from this world’s sin. It brings you to Christ so you need not suffer here any longer. It is in His hands when and why it comes – that’s not for us to know or understand. But He uses it to take us to Him, that we may enjoy His nearer presence as we wait for Him to raise us from the dead.
He will raise us from the dead. He never wanted death to enter the world. He fixes what is broken. He forgives sins. He raises the dead. God came down to visit His people to save them. Here He still visits you in Word and Sacrament, and you will rise to live with Him forever. This is your comfort and your trust in all trial, fear, and need. O Lord, have mercy