Most of the time when we see Jesus healing people in the gospels, it is because of faith;
either that of the person themself, or because of the faith of those around them. But not in our gospel reading today – here, Jesus acts out of sheer compassion.
There are all kinds of things we can wonder about as we look into this passage. I wonder how much Jesus knew of, and had in mind his own death, as the only son of the Father, and thus resonated with what he saw? I wonder if his compassion was also for his own Mother, who would loose her son?
Who too would carry him to a burial place outside the city?
Of course, there are similarities and differences – the son in this passage is raised again to ordinary life, which must still end in death, whereas Jesus will be raised again to life that never ends.
This morning, I would like us to take some time in this passage.I would even invite you to close your eyes if it helps.Try to walk amongst the crowd in the scene, to follow the dead man, to feel the heat of the sun beating down on the tear stained faces of the mourners.
This is not a funeral like those that we experience in this country, where we feel the need to be brave and not make a fuss. There are professional mourners at this funeral, wailing for all they are worth, so that those who are genuinely heartbroken by the death of this man, especially his Mum, can weep as much as they need to without feeling embarrassed.
This death would have had a similar effect as a death in our community here – everyone feels the ripples to a greater or lesser degree, people would have known where this chap lived, and now we join the neighbours walking with the family from their home to the family burial plot. As we follow the body, we know that the next thing that will happen is that people will cover him with herbs and spices, to mask the smell of decomposition, and wrap him in grave clothes.
This man’s father will already be in the small burial cave, probably only his bones now, placed respectfully in a bone box, leaving the main shelf for the next burial, which we know is his son.
There is tragedy here, and also familiarity.
Then, something happens that is completely unexpected. A stranger enters the scene. He is clearly from around those parts, and has a group of friends with him. He sees this widow who has now also lost her son, and he is deeply moved.
You watch as he goes to speak to her, and then he does something totally unacceptable in the customs of this place – he touches the bier. No one touches the bier except the people selected to officially take this task. Indeed, even touching one of the people touching the bier would be totally wrong.
No wonder the group grind to an abrupt halt.
And what is he doing now? He is talking to the dead man – he is telling him to get up! And now what!
The dead man is rising to his feet! We following cannot believe our eyes! We are totally shocked and amazed!
Where do you look? To the man who was dead, and is now alive…To his Mother, filling up and spilling over with emotion…To this astonishing stranger who has done this amazing thing that has not been seen since the time of the Elijah and the prophets…
People in the crowd try and make sense of it all; ‘God has visited his people’ they say,
and they are not talking about a genteel social visit, these are words used about the great events in Israel’s history such as the Exodus. What the crowd are saying is something more akin to, ‘God has come near us, to save us and rescue us’.
They recognize in this action that they are witnessing what they have been waiting for…
And what about us?We may not face a funeral procession this week, but there are things in each of our lives that we dread – real or imagined.
If you can, prayerfully bring to mind and enter the centre of the thing that you most dread [pause] recognize all the fear… anguish… and sorrow… Let Jesus meet you there… allow him to come and speak to you…to reach out to you in compassion. [pause]
You may hear something unexpected, but having the one who comes alongside us in all that we have to go through, and walks with us through it, may be just what you need.
This is the amazing love of God – If you will allow, you will find it reaching out, in unexpected, generous and healing ways.