When the Lord saw her, he had compassion for her and said to her, “Do not weep.” Then he came forward and touched the bier, and the bearers stood still. And he said, “Young man, I say to you, rise!” The dead man sat up… (Read the whole passage)
In this third Sunday of Ordinary Time, we hear the second part of a story that really began last week. Jesus was simply minding his own business when the Centurion sent for him to come and heal his beloved slave. Jesus was surprised to find such faith in this Roman Officer – a gentile and an enemy, but the slave was healed.
Today, the story is much the same. The focus is on a grieving loved one. A widow whose only son has died, is processing with the community to the grave where she will say goodbye to her son.
But beyond this shared grief over the death of a loved one, the widow and Centurion do not share much else. The Centurion was a man of power and control. He existed almost entirely outside of Israelite society, other than to command the military force occupying the land. The Centurion was faced with the loss of a slave, someone who served him.
The Widow is a person of weakness and dependance. She is completely dependent on the structures of society around her. She would have first been a servant to her husband, and then to her son. She would not have been permitted own land or to make money on her own. Without her son to provide for her, she would be left destitute, reduced to begging on the streets, dependent on the charity of society around her.
And yet, before they encounter Jesus, the Centurion and the Widow are equals before death, there is nothing they can do about it on their own. Perhaps that is why the Centurion, being a man of power, tries anything, reaching out to a local rabbi and healer knowing that this something outside his control. Perhaps that is why the widow is simply accompanying he son to the grave, here again is another confirmation that she no power in her world.
And so with no other recourse, the Widow is doing the only thing that she and her community know how to do. They turn to the rituals that can add the tiniest bit of dignity to the death of a loved one. They have gathered for worship, they weep and mourn, they console one another and pray. And now they are marching to the grave of this dead son. They are doing the only thing that they can do at a time like this.
But the widow is not just marching her son to the grave. She has marched her husband before her son. And now that her only son has predeceased her, her life as she knows it over, and she will soon become a forgotten widow surviving on scraps in the streets. She is marching to her own grave too.
Like the Centurion, like the widow, we too occupy the same place in life. When we stand before death, we have no power over it. It happens to all of us, weak or strong, powerless or powerful.
And like the widow today, we have the same response. When we are faced with death in our community, we gather together to do what we can to add some dignity to tragedy. We gather for worship, we weep, we mourn. We console one another and we pray. We offer hugs and casseroles, we do all that we can. And do these things without question, because these things are all we have in the face of death. This is what powerless creation, powerless humanity can do in the face of death.
And so the widow and her community do that know, they take this dead son to his grave as best they can.
Yet… while they are focused on the task grieving and mourning, of doing the last things for a loved one… Jesus does something that neither that the widow and her community would ever expect.
As the widow walks with her dead son to his grave, Jesus interrupts the whole funeral procession. There is no mention of a request for healing, there is no mention of the faith of the son or widow, no mention that they even knew who Jesus was.
Jesus interrupts and raises the dead son to life.
Jesus interrupts this community focused on the task of attending to and adding the smallest dignity to the death of one of their own… Jesus interrupts in an almost playful, even flippant, manner.
Yet he is touched by the widow’s hopelessness and helplessness. “Do not weep” he says.
It is out of compassion he walks up to this woman who has not seen him. He walks into the widow’s broken community and reaches out to death.
Jesus interrupts the flow of the last things and brings the steady march of the inevitable to a halt. The pallbearers stop in their tracks.
Death stands still.
And then Jesus does the unimaginable: he commands the widow’s son to rise.
Death hears the Word of God speaking.
Death hears the words of the Lord of Life:
‘Young man, I say to you, rise!’
And the dead man sits up.
Jesus’ compassion for the widow, his compassion for the community turns their world upside down. Jesus shows up at this funeral and interrupts the un-interruptible. Jesus stops the most powerful force known to humanity, and Jesus sends death away.
And Jesus raises not only the son, but the mother. But not only the mother, but the whole community. But not only the community, but us too.
Jesus raises us from the dead, just as the son was raised. Jesus raises us in this community week after week in the words of forgiveness and mercy, in the Word of God that we proclaim to one another, in holy baths where we are washed with grace, in holy meals where we are fed with love. In this community, with the very things that we fall back to when faced with death, with tears and prayer, casseroles and consolation, Jesus us raises from the dead.
Today, Jesus interrupts. Jesus interrupts the widow on the way to her grave. Jesus interrupts the ritual of the last things that consumed all the attention of the community and turns their words upside down, turns the finality of death into the beginning of new life.
And Jesus interrupts us too. Jesus interrupts us at our graves, Jesus interrupts our deaths. When we are powerless in the face of death, when we are consumed with the last things. Jesus comes along, interrupts our community and makes us sit up with the command:
People of God, I say to you, Rise!