Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
I found myself this week day dreaming about one of my trips to Disneyland as a child. I remember going on the rides, eating the food, being scared of the darkness at space mountain, but most of all, I remember the electric light parade. I could recall the sound of the parade far off. I could see the lights in the distance. I could feel the anticipation as the large parade crowd got closer and the excitement as the light covered cars zipped around in front me. Who here remembers the Disneyland electric light parade? I was only kid, but I remember it still made me feel alive.
This week I also recalled another event. As an adult in seminary, I was near downtown Pasadena, and I heard noise in the distance and saw lights coming toward me. I thought it was a parade, but instead learned as it came close, it was a procession for a fallen fire fighter. A fire engine led the way with lights and sporadic sirens. Somber civil servants were at the helm followed by a stream of cars with their headlights on as far as the eye could see.
I was thinking about these two events because in today’s Gospel reading we have both a parade and a procession.
The Gospel Reading
The very first thing that we hear in our Gospel reading is that Jesus is on his way to the town of Nain. But, it’s where Jesus was before this that might give us a clue to the tone of the group Jesus is traveling with.
Who remember last week’s Gospel reading? What was it about?
In last weeks Gospel we hear that Jesus is in the town of Capernaum, and he meets the Centurion’s messengers. The Centurion had deep faith and a sick servant. Jesus commended the Centurion’s faith and healed the sick servant. And then, from there Jesus goes on his way to Nain with his disciples and a large crowd.
Can you imagine what that crowd would have been like? They had just seen Jesus heal a person. The ruckus laughter, the re-telling of the healing account over and over, the joking, the carrying on would be noticeable even from a far distance. Jesus is leading a parade of life, and he is being celebrated with joy.
We know these kinds of parades. We are all familiar with the parades of young people leaving high school for the last time. Parades of newlyweds as they exit the church to cheering friends. And the parade of the new parents as they show of their tiny bundle of joy to the world.
So, Jesus is apart of this parade and when this crowd gets closer to the city gate they meet . . . a funeral procession.
So what happens when a parade of life meets a procession of death?
We are given just enough information about this particular death to show how tragic is. It’s a young man being carried in the open coffin. He is the only son of his mother. And the mother is a widow.
Can you imagine the tone of that crowd? In fact, funerals in some parts of the middle east today aren’t much different than they were back then. The whole town is involved; women are weeping and fall down sobbing. Men walk as they tear at their clothes; all the while the body is being carried above their heads in an open coffin.
Jesus’ parade of healing and life meets a procession of sickness and death.
And something like this has happened before.
In our first reading today we hear the story of Elijah, who first meets a widow at the city gate. And the widow’s son gets sick and dies. But, the prophet Elijah, a man of God, cries out to God over and over again for new life, and the boy lives.
God has acted in this kind of situation before. But now instead of a prophet, it is God made flesh who encounters the dead.
Elijah calls out to God for new life and the Son of God brings new life with his spoken words.
Jesus has a mission to live into while he is here.
He has come to show us that the Kingdom of God is near in him.
The Kingdom of God is that future place that we hear about in Revelation 21. It reads,
“Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and God will dwell with them. They will be God’s people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”
Jesus in his act of mercy and grace upon this widow and son is pulling the future consummation of all things into the present.
Jesus shows all those around him what the Kingdom of God is like. He is showing them exactly what happens when God’s Kingdom comes to earth.
So what happens today when a parade of life meets a procession of death?
Here and now joyful parents step out of the hospital with a newborn infant ready to go home and pass by children being rolled in on gurney with worried parents in tow.
Here and now a person is declared in remission from cancer and their friend is given a diagnosis on the very same day.
Here and now members of our congregation are getting promotions while others still can’t find work.
How easily our joy turns to grief. How quickly we are sobered by the realization of the frailty that we live in.
But Jesus shows up.
When Jesus speaks his word, new life begins.
Friends, we know funeral processions too well. We weep and mourn for all kinds of losses.
We walk in processions of death on a daily basis. We carry above our heads all manner of dying situations, and we are all carrying something we would like brought back to life.
We carry loved ones who are deceased.
We lift up personal security that has been extinguished.
We bear relationships that are gone.
We hold over our heads finances that have withered.
We bear health that is being destroyed.
We shoulder the grief of loss, brokeness, and death.
Sometimes these situations affect us so deeply, we just can’t let go of them. But the situations we carry do not have the final word. “There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things will pass away.” Psalm 55 reminds us, “Cast your cares on the LORD and he will sustain you.” We are called to pass over to Jesus the death we are carrying. Jesus will take those things from us. He who was raised on the third day will bring life from death.
But here’s the hard part. The life that Jesus brings may not be what we want or what we expect, and it may be hard to recognize at first.
Part of the life of faith is trusting that God is with us in our brokeness and pain even if we are not immediately delivered from them.
Our guarantee is not that life will be all joy from Electrical Light Parades. Rather, the promise we have is that God is with us; we’ve been given the Holy Spirit in baptism.
The deliverance may not be in the immediate resurrection of our loved one or of broken finances or of poor health or of lost relationships. But, friends, there will be a resurrection. Death does not have the final word.
Our parade is coming.
Friends, may you give Jesus all of the burdens you carry. May you recognize the parade when it comes and may you celebrate the moments of new life here and now. Amen.