2 Pentecost Year C
“Raising the Dead”
Dear friends in Christ, grace to you and peace from God our creator, and from our risen Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
On Memorial Day, I saw a photograph.
I saw a photograph of a young woman lying face down in front of a headstone at Arlington National Cemetery.
She’s lying down as if she is praying. Reading the article which accompanied the photograph, I discovered that she is lying in front of the grave of her fiancé, James Regan.
A photographer discovered her there, “talking to the stone.
He wrote that, “She spoke in broken sentences between sobs, gesturing with her hands, sometimes pausing as if she were trying to explain, with so much left needed to say.”
That was three years ago.
I wonder what has happened to the young woman in those three years.
Does she still haunt the cemetery, speaking to the stone?
Does she still weep? Is there still so much left to say?
Her grief is so personal, and yet I would guess that many of us would understand, would feel a kinship, would say we know something, a little, of what she has suffered.
So many of us would understand, a little or a lot, just as we might understand a little or a lot of the story in today’s gospel.
After all, it’s a story that takes place at a funeral.
“Do not weep.”
These are Jesus’ first words to the widow he meets in our gospel story today.
“Do not weep,” he tells her, which means that we can assume that she is weeping.
In fact, she is probably weeping and wailing loudly, as the funeral procession makes its way through town.
There are so many ways that this woman has become desperate that it might be hard for us to imagine.
First there is the grief that we can understand: a parent losing a child! – even an adult child
It’s hard enough for grown children when their parents die, but for a child to die first – unimaginable
– I once had a funeral for a 99 year old woman in my congregation. Sigrid was her name. She came from Norway, married and lived through the hardscrabble years of the depression, through two World Wars. She had six children, but her two daughters were the only ones I met, the only two left of her children.
At her funeral service, several people asked to stand up and briefly share a memory of Sigrid.
One man stood up in the pew and said that he had asked her once what was the most difficult thing she had to deal with in her life. She replied, “that four of her children died before she did.”
So that grief is hard enough – the grief of a parent losing a child – a widow who has lost her ONLY child, her only son.
But the woman is also desperate for another reason – when her son died, she lost her place in society, she lost her support, she lost the one who could speak for her.
A woman in those times needed a male advocate. First it would have been her husband, but he had died, leaving her a widow.
Then it was her son, her adult son. So the woman was probably not just weeping because she lost her son, but because she lost her advocate.
And when Jesus touched the funeral bier he not only restored this relationship, he also gave her back a place in the community.
He gave her back a voice.
He said to her, “Do not weep,” but he did more: he raised her son, and changed both of their lives. He gave her back her son, restored her hope, restored her life.
And if we are honest, wouldn’t we hope for the same? Don’t we hope for the same?
Imagine for a moment that you are widow, weeping, alone, without an advocate in the world.
Imagine that you are the one standing at the bedside of a friend, or that you are at the graveside, or that you are in the funeral procession, saying goodbye.
I can tell you – I’ve been to a lot of funerals – but I’ve never been to one yet where the dead person sat up.
Instead, we go to the cemetery, where we stand around in a circle and pray, and where people sometimes weep, and where a fresh headstone is laid down.
I’ve been to a lot of funerals, and some were for people who lived long and faithful lives, and others were for people whose lives were too short, and who left people who depended on them, in one way or another.
I’ve been to a lot of funerals, where people speak in broken sentences between sobs ... pausing as if they were trying to explain with so much left to say.
I’ve been to a lot of funerals, and I’ve never yet seen the dead person sit up – and yet, I believe in a God who raises the dead. I believe in a God who reaches out to touch us,
to speak for us when we are vulnerable,
to give us to one another when we are lonely.
I believe in this God because there have been times in my life when I have been lonely, grieving, times when I have needed an advocate –
and God has raised someone up to speak for me, to comfort me, to encourage me.
Not just a spiritual feeling in my heart, but God has sent a real, live flesh-and-blood person.
Has it been that way for you, as well?
As I said, I’ve been to a lot of funerals in my life – and some just recently. And I nearly always hear – or sometimes speak – these words
“When we were baptized in Christ Jesus, we were baptized into his death. We were buried therefore with him by Baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might life a new life.”
....We too might live a new life.
What does this mean? I’ll tell you what – it means that we are wailing widows, in need of an advocate, but that even more so, we are Jesus’ disciples, that we have been raised to new life and called to live compassionate lives, reaching out to touch one another, reaching out to heal, to speak words of forgiveness that change reality. We are raised to new life, to live not for ourselves, but for one another. We are called to challenge the status quo, we are called to restore hope.
We are called to stand in front of tombstones where people are speaking in broken sentences.....
We are called to stand at soup kitchens where people are hungry
We are called to stand up for people who are forgotten and left out.
For ... as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might live a new life.
If you read the book of “faith stories,” told by a few members of our congregation, some of the stories you will read are stories of grieving – and hope.
They are stories about prayer, and perseverance, death and resurrection.
One story told is about a young woman who lost her mother to cancer when she herself was a new mother just 28 years old.
She speaks about this time as a time when she was raised up. She say that she was “learning to fly,” by which I think she means learning to rely on God, to trust that God was present in her life.
She writes about that time,
“God and my faith in Him got me through each step of her disease. I think that’s how He knew I could handle her leaving – one small step at a time.
One breast removed, spread to another breast and removed, to her hip, to her brain, to her lungs. One small step at a time preparing us, testing our faith, one disappointment at a time.”
She concludes her story, “Then I would take a big breath, take a step, and another.
I would flap my wings;...I would sing a new song about a life with my new family...
I would fly and get to the destination knowing that God is with me and my mom behind me....”
So we too each day rise to new life, we learn to flap our wings, to fly,
because we believe that we have been buried in the waters of baptism, and have risen each day to “live a new life.”
We rise to live a new life for one another.
We grieve and we comfort others in their sorrow; we rise and we help others to stand.
Because in this life we know, like that young woman weeping in front of the soldier’s tomb, that there is so much left to say.
But we also know that when our sentences trail off... there is One who has the last word.
“Do not weep,” he tells us.
He has risen - indeed.