Why We Go To Funerals

Text:  Luke 7:11-17

In the name of Jesus: Amen.

Death: it is our great enemy.  It seems to bear its nasty head constantly, slowly attacking our bodies while we age each and every day. Death also seems to strike with big attacks weekly, for every week the obituary column in the paper has death’s victims listed.  Indeed, death comes along and strips life out of family members, friends, and neighbors, putting them in the grave, one by one.  It shows absolutely no mercy. 

Sometimes death is fairly predictable though; sometimes we can see it coming, when it seizes people who have been battling cancer.  We can also see it coming with the continual decline of people in the nursing homes.

Then there are those other times, where it pounces without warning.  Those times when it comes and bites down on beloved people in our lives, when we least expect.  You know what I am talking about, those freak car accidents or sudden heart attacks. 

Regardless if death acts predictably or not, death always gets the TKO on us, for death is the most powerful force to reckon with in this life.  Nothing compares to the power of death.  People can survive tornados, earthquakes, plagues, famines, and droughts, but when death strikes, it applies a tremendous amount of force, putting our loved ones in the grave and then inflicting sorrow and grief into everyone around – with no mercy.  Despite our best efforts, death seizes people and then it causes fear and sorrow and doubt to set in.  Death takes us out of our 9 to 5 routines and pulls us into its grips of helplessness. 

So, when death strikes, we find ourselves pulled into its grasp and end up going to a funeral service where hundreds of others come as well.    

At funerals though, there is a temptation in our modern day and age to deny death its victory – to downplay death.  In other words, there is a temptation to pretend like death is not as powerful as it is.  So, pastors and parishioners of the loved one who has passed away, will attempt to turn the funeral service into a celebration of the deceased person’s moral achievements.  They will talk about how good of a person the dead person was.  They will gush on and on about the deceased person’s accomplishments, how they were such a good farmer or good father or overall good person, as if this will offset the nastiness of death. 

If this does not happen, then there is a temptation to downplay death’s power and victory by talking about the apparent good news of how God has another angel.  The only problem is that we do not turn into angel when we die and God has enough angels already and this does nothing about the reality of death in the coffin.    

If the dead person’s moral achievements are not celebrated or if the dead person is not turned into an angel then another temptation can come over pastors and families, and that is to spit into the face of death’s sorrow, by making the funeral into a celebration of life.  Instead of acknowledging death’s victory of claiming another person, the dead person’s past life is dragged out of the past and presented at the funeral service and a celebration takes place where life is celebrated and death is toned down. 

To make matters even worse, the temptation in these celebrations of life is that we are told not to cry.  We are told that the deceased person would not want us to cry.  We are told that the dead person would not want us to experience sadness or grief, but happiness and joy. 

Truth be told though, all of these scenarios are nothing more than tactics that we use to pretend that death is not as serious as it is.  They are mechanisms that we use to downplay the power of death and to keep ourselves from the blunt reality of death’s finality.  These strategies attempt to keep us distracted from the painful reality that death’s destination is the grave.  We do not like the grave and we do not like death.  They both freak us out. 

If this is the case then, how should we respond to death?  Is it o.k. to grieve?  Is it o.k. to cry?  Is it o.k. to feel unsettled?  Is it o.k. to be swept up into a funeral with emotions of insecurity and hopelessness?  Is it o.k. not to pretend that we are unaffected by death?  It is o.k. to admit that death is powerful and that we are powerless to do anything about it?  Is it o.k. to admit that with all of our technological advances that we do not have a cure for death?  Yes, it is.  In fact this is completely natural, for death is not our friend, but our great enemy. 

Consider today’s Gospel reading.  A man had died and was being carried out of the town of Nain.  He was the only son of his mother.  The mother was a widow, which meant that with her son’s death that she was left with nobody to support her financially – she was helpless. 

As the mother and her dead son were being taken out of the town of Nain, they were surrounded by a very large crowd.  The crowd too was grabbed by death, as they were heading to death’s lair, the cemetery.   

So, the picture is this, death struck the widow’s son.  As a result, death led the mother and a large crowd, with its most recent claim, out to the cemetery.  There was no celebration of life, no moralistic eulogies, and no smiles of hope, as if the dead son had just earned his angel’s wings.  Nope; death seized this son and then grabbed a hold of the crowd and was taking them to the cemetery where death would swallow the dead son into the cold 6 foot grave.  That is… until death came face to face with life.

There was another group that was approaching the town of Nain.  At the head of this other group approaching the town of Nain was the Lord of Life – Jesus Christ. 

Two great crowds approached one another on the road to Nain.  One was full of grief and sorrow and fear, with death at its lead.  The other crowd was a group of people who had gathered around Jesus Christ, who had just healed a man with a demon, healed a leper, healed a paralytic, and healed a sick servant.  Two crowds approached each other: one with death and one with life. 

And then, the unthinkable happened. Instead of Jesus and his crowd stepping aside out of respect of the dead son and the mourning widow and grieving crowd, they actually collided.  You see, the funeral procession expected Jesus and the crowd to step to the side and respectfully allow the body of the dead man to pass by.  This was the proper thing to do.  Death had claimed another person; death was about to swallow this person up in the cemetery.  Therefore, it was proper to let death have its way.  No use prolonging the grief!  However, Jesus did not do the expected; Jesus did not bow to death.  He did not move to the side of the road, but rather, He went right towards death. 

As Jesus approached the dead son and the widow, He had compassion on her and said, “Do not weep.”  Under ordinary circumstances, this would be a very heartless thing to say.  Ordinarily these words would be downright cruel, but in this situation things were different.  They were words of hope.  The reason why? 

Jesus’ ached with the woman’s pain.  He felt her grief to the fullest.  Her pain pierced His insides so that He felt it with her.  He was not about to let this funeral pass by uninterrupted.  He was not willing to let death have its way with this woman and this crowd.  He was not willing to let the grave gobble up this son.  He was not willing. 

And so, Jesus came up to death and its victim and touched the dead body.  Jesus did not bow to death, He did not ignore death, He did not back away from death, and He did not cringe, but rather, He approached death, touched death, and spoke to death, “Young man, I say to you, arise!” 

Dear friends, consider what is happening here.  Death had no choice but to listen to Jesus.  Death had no choice but to release its jaws from this widow’s son.  Death had no choice but to bow to the Christ. 

At Jesus’ word, life returned to the widow’s son.  Jesus reversed the crowd of death, so that it became a true celebration of life.  The depth of tragedy becomes the height of triumph.  Dancing replaced mourning.  Hope replaced despair.  Assurance replaced doubt.  Life replaced death. 

The same is true for you and for me and for those who die in Jesus’ name.  You see, this world is a valley of tears.  It is a huge morgue and cemetery, for we are all in the process of dying.  And funerals are simply the culmination – the end result – of this life of death.  Therefore, as we go to funerals we do not need to hear about the deceased person’s moral achievements, for this accomplishes nothing.  We do not need to have our grief masqueraded by celebrating the person’s life, for this accomplishes nothing.  We do not need to try and comfort ourselves pretending that the deceased person has become an angel, and we do not need to stuff our tears within, for all of this accomplishes nothing.  No, may this never be!  We go to funerals, so that we may collide with Jesus in His Word.  Like the crowd at Nain going to the cemetery, we go to funerals with our grief, with our despair, with our sorrow, with our anger, with our fear, and with our doubt, so that the Lord in His compassion can reach out and touch our hearts, minds, and souls with His Word of comfort, “Do not fear dear Saints!”  Indeed, we go to funerals to hear about the Lord’s answer to death.  We go to hear that Christ has resurrected from the grave and that those who have died in Christ will resurrect unto life as well.  We go to hear that at the great resurrection that there will be no more tears and that there will be no more death; there indeed will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain, for Christ Jesus is the victor over the enemy of death – for  you, for me, and for our loved ones in Christ. 

Dear Baptized Saints, we go to funerals so that we may collide with Jesus in His Word.  And as Jesus reaches out and touches our ears with His Word, we hear that the body in the coffin is the body of our loved one who was baptized, who ate the saving body of Jesus, who drank the forgiving blood of Jesus, so that by these precious Sacraments their body will burst out of the grave as a gloried body being reunited with their soul, when the great trumpet will sound.    

Indeed, as we go to funerals and church services, just like this, so that we can collide with Jesus in His Word and hear the good news that the jaws of death have been broken, that the grave has been shattered, and that neither death, nor life, nor anything else in all creation, can separate us from the love of God in Jesus Christ, our Lord, for He is our resurrection and our life. 

We go to funerals and come to church services, just like this, so that we might be given comfort in our sorrow, assurance in the midst of our doubt, and hope in our despair, for Jesus is the resurrection and the life. 

He who believes in Him shall never never die.

In the name of Jesus: Amen.

Portions of this sermon are indebted to Chad Bird's article, 
"Please Don't Say These Six Things At My Funeral." 
To read more on this subject: CLICK HERE

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