In the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Psalm 127 sings of the home and family as a great blessing, and human flourishing from the Lord God Himself. It says: “3 Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb a reward. 4 Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the children of one's youth. 5 Blessed is the man who fills his quiver with them! He shall not be put to shame when he speaks with his enemies in the gate.” Yet this poor widow in the gospel reading today, what does she have left to her “in the gate” of the city? Weeping. The procession goes on, with a cry and an inarticulate lament. Stricken by grief, they are left bereft of words. And why shouldn’t they wail? One loss would be enough, but two … first her husband and her only son… What more is there to say, but weep with a groan too deep for words? (c.f. Rom 8:26)
In genuine love for the boy, she might have desired to trade places with the child: That she would die so he could live and grow up. She wouldn’t be the only one to imagine a bargain like that. “Greater love has no one than this,” Jesus says in John 15, that to lay down one’s life for their beloved. She might even have prayed for it, or some other kind of miracle. Who wouldn’t? But substituting herself was not possible for this poor miserable women, and so the crowd wailed in solidarity with her, and the pallbearers marched on, relentless.
At the head of another procession, Jesus looks on. It’s not too much of a stretch to think that he sees a bit of Himself in their situation – an only-begotten son, bound for death. Our Lord has gut-wrenching compassion, that’s what the biblical greek word means that St. Luke uses here – compassion felt so deeply that it moves you to the pit-of-the-stomach. In this way God so loved the world. Out of lovingkindness,1 the Son of God laid aside His majesty for a time, took on human nature, and willingly subjected Himself to suffer the pains and pangs of our poor miserable human condition along with us.
So Jesus speaks, and tells the woman “do not weep.” Weep no more (Rev 5:5!), for there is One Who will take this boy’s place in death. There is a substitute already. Jesus reaches out to touch the grave-bound bier. Let the little children come to Him. According to the Old Testament law in Numbers 19[:11-13], a person would become ceremonially ‘unclean’ by touching a dead body. Yet someone had to do bear them; it was unavoidable in the long run. Jesus does this on purpose. He absorbs all that uncleanliness and corruption into Himself, and from Him flows life and purity. He Himself is the Source and Wellspring of holiness. In touching the bier, Jesus foreshows the great exchange: He bears our the just punishment we rightly deserve for all our sin … He bears it in His own body by His crucifixion, death, and rising. And you by faith receive His righteousness put onto us in the Word of the gospel. He united Himself to us in a bodily death like ours, so that on the last day we who are baptized into Him would be united to Him in a resurrection like His.
The bearers stood still. Death was stopped in its tracks. Jesus fulfills what is written in Psalm 146: “8b ...The Lord lifts up those who are bowed down; the Lord loves the righteous. 9ab The Lord watches over the sojourners; he upholds the widow and the fatherless….” He gives the boy back to his mother, alive and well and speaking. It was a mighty miracle, far exceeding the prophets of old. The boy was restored in body and soul, given to that highest human capacity of speech and reason. For a time, the broken family was made a bit more whole. The Lord of life has come near; weep no more. They marvelled and spoke His praise.
Now, there is hope for us in this. We may not experience the same kind of miracles in this body and life, as if this sin-broken world is what matters most. But the same Lord Jesus who restores broken families and raises the dead … He is not far from you. He is moved by compassion for and your broken family. On the last day all the dead will be raised, and those who have received His salvation through faith will be reunited in the blessed life everlasting. He has not given up on our broken families in the here and now. The Lord has built the house, and He does not labor in vain. He stands near to us to ‘touch’ us in the holy communion, where His true Body and Blood is truly present to forgive our sins and renew us in His covenant of grace. He has commanded us to pray and has promised to hear your cries. It is fitting then that of all the psalms, we sang psalm 86 as an introit today: “3 Be gracious to me, | O Lord, * for to you do I cry | all the day. 5 For you, O Lord, are good and for- | giving, * abounding in steadfast love to all who call up- | on you.” (Psalm 86). Weep no more, but marvel, and speak the good news that God has visited His people. In the name + of Jesus. Amen.
1God’s will to act for us is not primarily the result of His suffering empathic compassion with our suffering, but His eternal self-giving love. The "suffering" of compassion is part of His incarnate suffering.