The Gospel of Luke records a short but vital story of Jesus’ confrontation with death.
Hot on the heels of a very public act of healing the child of someone famous, Jesus leads an impromptu parade of followers, well-wishers and the curious as he continues his travels and teaching. This parade is a celebration of healing and life. The one with the power of life leads the march.
Yet, as they approach the next village, a town called Nain (a word meaning “pleasant” or “beautiful,” likely due to the lush pastures that surrounded it) Jesus and his band of celebrants are confronted by a funeral procession. A young man has died leaving his widowed mother to herself. His life cut too short. Hers now at risk.
What will Jesus do? Convenience would suggest he step to the side. Empathy might call him to join the mourners. The religious code prohibited him and his followers from coming too close. Contact with anything dead put one at unpredictable risk, both physically and spiritually.
Jesus, however, embodies life, not fear.
Without making a big deal out of it, he comforts the woman and then reaches out and touches the bier on which the body is being carried. Jesus tells the young man to get up. The man does so and begins to speak. Jesus, who is the Word of Life, is greeted by words from one who is living again.
The temptation, when we are confronted by situations that are problem-plagued and unpredictable – situations that look like big or little deaths – is to try to minimize our exposure. We’d rather keep things clean and simple. We’d rather not get caught up in the messiness. It’s easier to practice avoidance. So, we pretend we didn’t hear. We try to forget. We don’t bring things up. It will, we fear, just make things worse.
But things could be otherwise.
Last month, during suicide awareness week, we were encouraged to “Seize the awkward” and use those times of awkward silence to ask a companion who seems down if they are okay. A growing body of evidence supports the practice of journaling about emotionally intense experiences as a way of improving health and wellness. In both of these examples, we intentionally bring our life into contact with that which seems like death. Life and wellness rise victorious. We shouldn’t be surprised by this. In all kinds of circumstances, life persists.
As surely as Jesus’ raising of the widow’s only son at Nain prefigured his own resurrection — and note that Jesus is also the only son — Christians are called to recognize these moments when life is triumphant as echoes of Jesus’ resurrection and signs pointing to the restoration of all life in the return of Christ.
May it be so among us.
Oct. 2, 2019