Three Ways We Respond To Death

Text: Luke 7:11-17

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

I don’t care how tough you are; Death is tougher. Death is indeed tough.  Yes, there are times when Death can seem like a welcomed guest, ending the suffering of a loved one.  However, I have yet to meet somebody who finds Death to be pleasant or is unaffected by it. 

You see, the Bible properly speaks of Death as having a sting.  Death stings our emotions, mind, and soul with pain. And, when it stings, it topples our entire world, bringing about fear, anger, tears, and uncertainty. 

Perhaps one of the most difficult things you will have to go through in life is the Death of a loved one, especially all that follows Death. You know what I speak of.  The sting of Death is difficult enough, but that journey to the grave, well… it is often just as painful if not more.  For some, that journey can be like pouring salt into the open wound caused by Death.    

Considering all of this, we can certainly empathize with the widow in our reading from the Gospel of Luke.  As a widow, she lost her husband to Death at some earlier point, and now Death has seized her only son, making her alone in this life.  We assume that the Death of her son was recent, as they would often bury their dead the same day that they died. 

And so, here we find this grieving widow traveling with a large crowd on a journey to a tomb outside the city.  What a difficult journey.  We can only imagine the pain of each step, as the grieving woman walked to the finality of Death’s sting – a tomb where the body of her son would be laid to decay.   

Indeed, Death is difficult.  It stings, and it hurts.  And that journey towards the grave, it hurts just as much. 

Now, it should not surprise you and me that we humans do not like the sting of Death.  And we especially fear that journey towards the graveside. 

As a pastor, I can tell you from the simple observation that I see three challenging responses to the sting of death and the journey to the graveside. 

First, there are those who avoid it altogether.  Now, I do not share this to condemn these individuals at all.  The sting of Death is indeed so great that it causes some to become so overwhelmed that they avoid funerals and the graveside altogether.  Going to a funeral, and traveling to the graveside is just too much.  The pain is too deep.  The sting is too much. 

Secondly, there are those who will tip their hat to Death, will attend a funeral, and will go to the graveside.  But these individuals will do everything possible to avoid the current and present reality of Death before them.  And so, these individuals will attempt to live in the past where their loved ones were not stung by Death.  In other words, these individuals will try to make the funeral and graveside all about celebrating the past memories, accomplishments, and joys of their loved ones.  Like those who do not attend funerals and graveside services to avoid the sting of Death, these individuals avoid the present reality of Death and its sting by trying to live in the past, where their loved one was alive and free from the sting of Death.  Now, as mentioned before, I do not share this to condemn these individuals, but I share this to show that Death is difficult.  It hurts so much that we try to avoid present realities and live in the past memories where we are supposedly free from Death’s sting. 

Finally, there are those who attend the funeral.  They do not avoid Death’s sting.  They also travel to the graveside.  They are present in the moment.  However, as they attend the graveside, the sting of Death has worked them over, resulting in a tremendous amount of fear, anger, and tears.  Personally, I hurt with these people the most.  You see the pain of Death in their eyes.  You hear the tiredness in their voice.  You see the pain in their shakes as they cry.  These are the people who have to be helped out of the pews, into the car, and to the graveside.  These are the ones who stare into the dark grave in silence as if a thousand knives have just pierced their soul.  Again, I do not share this to condemn these individuals, but I share it because it shows you and me just how difficult Death is – how much it stings and hurts. 

Now, as we heard in our Gospel reading from Luke, the widow would most likely be in that last category of persons, for she was crying out loud as she walked towards the tomb. 

And what about you?  How do you respond to the sting of Death?  Do you avoid it altogether?  Do you try to live in the past to be distracted from the present reality of Death?  Or, do you let Death have its way with you and bear the stings of Death? 

As your pastor, I must confess that many times I would like to avoid Death like that first category, but I can’t.  It is my calling and duty as your pastor to be present for you when Death strikes.  So, I find myself in that third category, being stung by Death, often becoming very angry with Death, and how it hurts my sheep.  Yes, I get very angry, and then when no one is looking, I cry and curse at Death.  Yes, to somehow preserve the appearance of tough manhood, I cry when no one is looking.  I anger, I cry, and I curse at Death because Death hurts.  Death stings all of us deeply.  It is not easy. 

And so, it seems that all of us here are affected by Death in one way or another, especially in our actions at funerals and in our journey to the graveside.  It seems that there is nothing that we can do about the sting of Death.

But before too much despair sets in, we must take note that there is something that Jesus has done about Death. 

Consider that difficult journey to the tomb that the widow was on.  Yes, consider our Gospel reading from Luke.  Death had stung.  They were traveling to the tomb.  But that funeral procession collided with Jesus.  And Jesus, instead of joining them in their journey to the tomb, reached out His hand and stopped them. And Jesus then did the most remarkable thing – He spoke to a corpse.  He spoke to dead ears.  And Death, well… it had to listen.  The widow’s son was released from Death, given life, sat up, and started speaking.  I say to you, “Get UP!”  And the widow’s son… he got up.  He heard Jesus. 

In a recent death here at St. Paul’s, I hugged one of our parishioners and said, “I am so sorry.”  The sting of Death was deep with this parishioner.  I then said to them with tears in my eyes,

“This is where our theology becomes real.  All of our talk and theology and teachings at the church come down to moments like this – where I can look you in the eyes and say to you with certainty that your loved one will rise again.  You will see them again.  Jesus will call him out of the grave.  Jesus will not let Death get away with this.”

Dear Baptized Saints, we come to this church, sing the songs that we do, and go through the liturgy every single week, not because we uphold some fanciful myth.  We are not here because we have created some neat social club.  We are not here for some lame moral stories that are supposed to make us better citizens so that we can reach our fullest potential.  No!  If this is what the church is only about, we would do well to just stop wasting time and shut the doors and go home.  Instead, we are here because the God-Man – Jesus – has power over the sting of Death.  You and I believe with every part of our being the bold news that Jesus not only rose from the dead Himself but will someday call us out of the graves - “Get up!” – and we will do just that…  we will get up.  

And so, when we feel like we need to avoid funerals, or when we feel like we need to live in the past while ignoring the present reality of Death, or when we become so devastated by Death that we literally cannot function, what we do not need is the command to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps.  We don’t need a pat on the head saying, “Suck it up cupcake, death ain’t so bad.”  But instead, we can travel to the church and graveside hearing the bold, staggering, radical, and powerful news that Jesus does not let Death have its way.  Death does not have the last word – Jesus does.  Jesus will meet your loved ones at the grave – he will meet you at your grave – and will someday in the not too distant future say the last word - “Get up!”  And just like that – your dead ears will hear.  And you will get up with a new body, never to die again.  You will get up and see your loved ones face-to-face.    

And it is that news of Jesus being the champion over Death that allows all of us to grieve with hope.  It is the news of Jesus that allows us to stare directly into the darkness of death’s grave, with grief saying with the deepest pain, “Hear this, O Death, Jesus is victorious!”  

In fact, dear Baptized Saints, we ought to – perhaps – think about funerals and the journey to the graveside as a protest and riot against the tyranny of Death itself.  We ought to clench our fists and say the taunting words of St. Paul:

“Oh, Death! Hear this!  You have been swallowed by triumphant Life! Who got the last word, oh, Death? Oh, Death, who’s afraid of you now?”

Jesus met Death that day outside the city of Nain, and He resurrected the widow’s dead son from the grave.  And this very same Jesus will meet you and your baptized loved ones someday at the grave as well, and do the impossible. 

Take comfort in Jesus’ words, Baptized Saints!  “Get up!”  Yes, we surely will, and Death will not be able to do anything about it. 

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

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