It’s almost like Easter today. Great joy and happiness abound in the Gospel reading. As explained, after the jump.
Next week is the last Sunday in the church year. There’s an extra week this year between thanksgiving and Christmas, and so we have one extra week as we finish the Trinity season. The topics for the Trinity season focus on the life of the Christian as a part of Christ’s church, living lives in the world, but not of the world.
Amid the celebration of our own church’s 100th year, the Reformation and All saints day, the focus has floated around various topics of love for others in this world – that is, how our lives reflect Christ who is in us. Last week we heard Jesus tell the disciples to render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s. Our belongings are not ours, they are on loan to us. We are merely stewards of God’s gifts. Next week we will be reminded that the wait for our Lord’s return may seem long, but He will return, and we must stand ready at all times. And then, Advent, when we are told “The king comes”, and we prepare our hearts in repentant joy.
Today, is a brief interlude. Miracles are the stuff of Epiphany, when we hear of God, revealing his glory to the world. Today though, we hear of a woman healed, long after we have moved into the more law-oriented teachings of our Lord. A girl raised from the dead almost 6 months from the celebration of Easter.
Today is a reminder.
Last week we heard how our lives are not lived according to the thoughts of this world. Today we hear why that is. We stop for a moment at this very comforting Gospel reading between sessions of Law. Today, you are reminded of why we bother with all this church stuff. Why officers are elected for the congregation, why we set budgets. Today you hear again why you come to church in the first place, why you give your offerings, why you listen to the pastor as he applies the law to your life – that is, as he brings to you the truth that you are not living up to your calling, and yet, even in your sin, there is forgiveness. Today, hear again of the forgiveness that is yours.
As Jesus goes along, he meets a woman who is desperate for healing. Twelve years of constant uncleanness. Twelve years of being unable to be part of the community of Israel. Twelve years of outcast status. No one can do anything for her. The doctors are baffled, her life is not quite the life of a leper, but not far from it. With only a touch, Jesus heals her. Her life changed forever. Restored not just in her body, but as a member of the people of God.
But if that woman was desperate, it was nothing compared to the man. His daughter had died. What father doesn’t see himself as some sort of Greek hero, going into the realm of the dead and facing down the god of the underworld, Hades himself for the chance to steal his daughter from death and bring her back to the land of the living? Of course, that’s just not possible. The man’s daughter has died. He is powerless. The great hero father was helpless, and now his little girl is gone.
Jesus seems very calm about the whole thing. They arrive home to flute players and people wailing. Friends and neighbors visiting, bringing meals, desserts, and words of remembrance. Those well meaning family don’t bring words of comfort, because there is no true comfort. After all, the girl is dead. What more is there to say? Not dead, merely sleeping says Jesus. An idea so laughable that the people – well they laugh. If it were true, that would be a comfort. But it is so unlikely as to be impossible. Jesus is not dissuaded. He tells them all to get out. He goes in and with a brief word, brings the girl back to life. He gives her back to her parents. Not only was she just sleeping, as far as Jesus is concerned, but a very light sleep at that.
The woman with the flow off blood had her life changed. The father had his daughter given back to him. That’s what Jesus does. He restores things to the way they should be.
Of course, not everyone in Israel was healed during Jesus life, not everyone was raised from the dead. Even though the whole world would be filled with books if every act and word of Jesus were written down, Jesus healed only a small number of those afflicted. And even then, he only worked for a brief period. The apostles would heal another few, but not many. The signs and wonders would cease, and now we find ourselves in a world decidedly un-miraculous. The miracles of today are found in human ingenuity: Antibiotics that heal leprosy, medical procedures that make failing joints last longer. Surgery to make the heart work better. Even organ transplants when an organ totally fails. But these can not bring the dead back. They can delay, postpone, and ignore death,but they can not conquer it.
Jesus conquers it. He doesn’t conquer death in today’s Gospel reading. He undoes death for that one little girl. But death itself is still there. Not for the man and his wife and daughter, but elsewhere there are still people dying in Israel. Jesus hasn’t stopped it. He hasn’t even slowed it down, just brought one girl back from it. A great miracle to be sure.
But Jesus is only giving glimpses of the new kingdom that he brings. Jesus came to bring new life in the place of death for all people, to bring healing in the place of sickness, to bring joy in the midst of sorrow. And he does it, as we hear during Holy Week each year, by his death on the cross. He does it for you by his body and blood, given and shed for you for the forgiveness of your sins. That’s how he restores the world. He re-orders it. When Jesus died the sun was darkened, the rocks were split, the earth trembled and shook, because the earth was being reborn, being recreated. Of course, this old world, as wonderful as it may be, can not really be recreated. It is a world of sin. It must be replaced. Jesus will one day replace this world with a world without sin, without death, without suffering and pain and crying and grief, without medical conditions that can not be healed, without children who die before their time – or for that matter, ever. Jesus, in his death on the cross, undoes the power of death. He undoes the curse of sin. The Gospel reading shows us Jesus, restoring just a tiny corner of his creation. Imagine the joy of the woman, of the daughter and her family, that’s just a taste of joy, a small hint of the great joy that is ours in Jesus death and resurrection, and that will be made visible when our Lord returns.
You have been given life, a life beyond the powers of this world. A life conveyed through the word spoken, through the sacrament given to you. A life that looks at the new creation, that sees that death has lost its power, that the grave has lost its victory.
The old liturgy of the church for funerals proclaims, “In the midst of life we are in death.” It is a reminder that this world is a world of death and decay, that no matter how alive we may seem today, tomorrow may be a different story. It is a warning to always be prepared, always be watchful.
But when we hear the word of Jesus, when we hear of the girl getting up, of the woman being healed, when we look at the death of Jesus on the cross, and his resurrection for you, then it is reversed. In the midst of death, we are in life. That is the promise that Jesus gives. That even death can not separate us from his love, that even the grave can not hold those whom he has redeemed by his precious blood. That even though the world around you is dying – and this time of year you see that clearly in the trees, the flowers, and the grass, even though death surrounds you, know that you are redeemed by the one who went through death, you are saved by the one who conquered death, not with a word as he walked into a house, but with his own death on the cross. And no matter what happens in this world, no one can take that from you.