Sermon for this Week: Two Large Crowds

Mom joined me last night for a lovely evening in Pine Island!

Sermon for Saturday, June 4 - 5:30pm Service
Saint Paul Lutheran Church, Pine Island, MN
Sermon title: Two Large Crowds
Gospel: Luke 7:11-17

Luke 7:11-17 - "Soon afterwards he went to a town called Nain, and his disciples and a large crowd went with him. As he approached the gate of the town, a man who had died was being carried out. He was his mother’s only son, and she was a widow; and with her was a large crowd from the town. 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 and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother. Fear seized all of them; and they glorified God, saying, “A great prophet has risen among us!” and “God has looked favorably on his people!” This word about him spread throughout Judea and all the surrounding country."

Tonight’s Gospel story is about gut-wrenching grief and gut-wrenching compassion. It’s a story about a funeral and a story about hope. It’s about the eyes of Jesus and the love-filled lens through which he views us all.

It begins as a story about two large crowds. These two large crowds are at the complete opposite ends of the emotional spectrum.

It comes from the Gospel of Luke. There are four books in the Bible specifically about the life and ministry of Jesus: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, and each of them presents a slightly different twist. Tonight, we’re in Luke, chapter 7.

The previous chapters of Luke provide clues as to the tone for the mood of Jesus and his followers at this point in the Gospel. He’s been healing and teaching up a storm. He called the 12 disciples, so the whole gang is together at this point. Everywhere there are crowds and everywhere he’s healing the sick. Jesus and his disciples are in Capernaum at the beginning of chapter 7, and they’re heading toward a new town – Nain. It’s about 25 miles a way. It’s a town at the base of a low mountain – right on the edge of the slope. A small town. About 200 people nowadays – maybe about the same then.

The “Jesus crowd” is heading toward the edge of that slope; it’s the best of times for these folks. It’s the early chapters of Jesus’ ministry, and things are going well.

But, when the crowd gets to the edge of Nain, they meet another crowd – a crowd for whom it is the worst of times.

The absolute worst.

It’s a funeral procession.

But it isn’t just any funeral procession – it’s the funeral procession of a young man – maybe in his late teens. He's the only son of a widow. A women who had already lost her husband.

It’s sad on top of sad on top of sad.

At the time, burials generally happened the same day as a death. A body would be put into a tomb before the night fell. We can imagine that however this boy died, his mother is in a complete haze of shock. She would be literally rending her layers of clothing – a visual sign of her internal anguish. Rending of garments was a widespread practice at the time. This mother, in keeping up with the burial practices of the time, would’ve torn her garment across the chest – to tear the fabric in that spot represented the tearing of the heart being experienced at the loss of her son.

After the death of the young man was declared, then women closest to the mother would’ve prepared his body. They would’ve closed his dead eyes. Trimmed his nails. Washed him in warm water. Anointed his skin with oil. No men would’ve gone near the body. It was considered unclean – only women would have been around. They would have surrounded the mother and her dead son – preparing for the next step: transporting the body to the tomb.

Everyone in town would’ve been part of the walking procession. That’s why it was such a large crowd. They’ve would’ve known to come to the city gate by following the sound of the flutes playing. Every funeral procession had flutes. It was required. The women would stand in the front of a funeral procession – wailing. Wailing loudly.

Tombs were always outside the city limits. A way to separate what was thought clean from what was thought unclean. They were hewn in the rocks. Generally 6-8 bodies in each tomb.

The boy’s body would have been wrapped in layers of cloth. Then it would have been placed on a wooden plank – like a stretcher.

Male family members and friends would take turns holding the plank up – walking slowly out of town, down the slope, toward the tomb, making sure never to touch the body.

There were two large crowds at the edge of Nain that day.

There is the Jesus crowd and the funeral crowd – and their emotional states couldn’t be more opposite.

We can imagine the two crowds drawing closer and closer until they are crossing paths – Jesus and his crew headed into town and the funeral procession headed out of town.

The Gospel text says that when Jesus sees the woman, he has compassion for her.

Compassion is a nice word. But the original Greek word that Luke used when he wrote the story down for the first time is even more powerful: splagchnizoma. It means gut-wrenching emotions. Luke only uses it to describe the emotional state of Jesus on one occasion – this exact moment. The moment Jesus views this mother in the midst of this tragic funeral procession. He’s moved with compassion – all the way in his internal organs…that’s what the word means. Jesus feels this woman’s grief – in his heart and lungs and liver and kidneys.

Jesus steps forward. We can imagine everyone – these two giant crowds – coming to standstill. He does the most shocking thing he could do. He talks to the woman: “Do not weep” – and then he touches the front of the wooden plank. “Young man, I say to you, rise!” The boy sits up. Covered in layers of cloth, sticky with anointing oil. Jesus helps him off the plank and hands him to his mother.

The Gospel says that “fear seized all of them.”

I imagine Luke is referring to the emotional state of both of the crowds. Everyone was in total shock. The word about Jesus spreads. And that’s the last we hear about the mother and son in Nain.

Jesus sees people. He seems them through the eyes of his guts. He feels real, profound feelings – grief, empathy, compassion, grace. Tonight’s Gospel text is an example of that – and a reminder to us all – for our own journeys. Jesus sees us through the same lens. So much love. So much gut-wrenching compassion.

In returning the dead boy to his mom, he was giving her hope. In our own journeys, we long for reasons to hope, too. And in those journeys of life, Jesus walks with us as we walk with each other. He walks with us on both ends of the emotional spectrum. That is the good news. He’s with us when we’re happy as a clam, marching into town for the Cheese Fest. And he’s with us when we’re as sad as humanly possible when we just want to be dead. He’s right there in the middle of it all – reaching out a hand – reaching right into the depths of our brokenness and saying: “Rise.”

As families of faith, we have the privilege of being spaces that welcome people from all the crowds. And your congregation’s mission statement expresses exactly that: “Guided by God’s love, we are called to welcome, love, and work for God’s people, here, there, and everywhere.”

Thank you, people of Saint Paul’s. May you continue to do that good work. Welcoming people just as they are – wherever they’re at on the the road - whatever crowd of which they are a part.

May we all experience Christ’s "splagchnizoma" compassion for us – and may it propel us to express that depth of compassion for one another.