This has been a hard week.
Early Sunday morning when I drove through my Starbucks for a cup of coffee before church I learned that the wife of one of the workers was in the hospital, and not doing well. I married this young couple a year ago, and so I was quite concerned about what was happening. On Monday morning I learned that she had died, and that’s how the week began. She was just 19 years old. She got the flu, it turned into pneumonia, and then she was gone. I will be conducting her service this afternoon; their first year anniversary would have been Sunday. Needless to say, I am heartsick. As I will be saying in the service in a couple of hours, “19 year olds are just not supposed to get sick and die, and the fact that they can and do is a terrifying reality, one that we’ve banged our heads hard against this week.”
Last night at the Visitation Mary Lynn and I watched young people silently come and go, tears in their eyes and questions on their hearts. And in other rooms down the hallway of the funeral home there were other families and friends sitting with their beloved dead, tears in their eyes and questions on their hearts. At one point in another room down the hallway, the sobs became shrieks as a young girl was ushered out of the room where her loved one’s body lay, her family holding her as they passed by those of us who had gathered around the body of our loved one. There was a silent bond of suffering between us. We were all experiencing the same thing. And an old man who had his arm around this young grief-stricken girl, looked up as he passed the door where we were gathered, and then he bowed his head and made the sign of the cross.
Calvin Miller calls this “Christifying” the world around us, “consciously viewing the people and circumstances of our lives with the eyes of Christ.” He explains –
I generally think of Christifying my world as painting the face of the Savior on the anxious, hurried faces about me. I write I.N.R.I. on the anxious hurried faces about me (I.N.R.I. is an acronym of the Latin inscription IESVS·NAZARENVS·REX·IVDÆORVM – Iesus Nazarenus, Rex Iudaeorum, which translates in English as “Jesus the Nazarene, King of the Jews.” Luke tells us that it was this statement that hung above Jesus’ head as He died on the cross.) I write I.N.R.I. on the most tangled of circumstances, and as soon as they are autographed with His name, they yield to meaning and life. (Table of Inwardness – 76)
And this is what I will be doing this afternoon — “Christifying” the circumstance, autographing the situation so that it will yield to meaning and life. As Michael Horton explains in his new systematic theology –
Faith is tested throughout our lives (James 1:3; I Peter 1:7). As the object of our faith proves Himself faithful throughout these trials, our faith grows. Even if we do not have God’s personal revelation about why we are suffering or how He is weaving our trials into a hidden pattern, we do have the revelation of God’s hidden purposes for us and for creation in Jesus Christ. God has demonstrated His faithfulness objectively, publicly, and finally in the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. (The Christian Faith 92)
On Sunday evening in Bible Study we looked at the story of Jesus raising the son of the widow of Nain.
Soon afterward, Jesus went to a town called Nain, and his disciples and a large crowd went along with him. As he approached the town gate, a dead person was being carried out — the only son of his mother, and she was a widow. And a large crowd from the town was with her. When the Lord saw her, his heart went out to her and he said, “Don’t cry.” Then he went up and touched the coffin, and those carrying it stood still. He said, “Young man, I say to you, get up!” The dead man sat up and began to talk, and Jesus gave him back to his mother.
All week long it has been this Gospel story that has been bouncing around inside my head and heart as I have been getting ready for the service this afternoon. Every miracle story in the Gospels of Jesus raising someone from the dead was a way of foreshadowing His own resurrection, and pointing to ours as well. That makes this story part of the public and objective declaration of God’s faithfulness.
Three details of the story particularly stand out for me this morning after the week I’ve had –
“When the Lord saw her, his heart went out to her…”
Jesus was not emotionally indifferent to the situation of this widowed mother who was burying her only son. In another Gospel narrative of Jesus raising the dead, we are told simply that “Jesus wept” (John 11:35). The Savior was prophetically foreshadowed by Isaiah as “a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief” (53:3). Because of Jesus Christ we know that God “gets it.” God knows how hard it is because in Jesus Christ God experienced firsthand our struggles and our sufferings; He has shared our life and our death.
“He said, ‘Don’t cry.’”
Now, if this was the only thing that Jesus Christ said and did that day outside the village of Nain, His counsel would have been hollow and even callous. The instruction “Don’t cry” is empty and cruel if there is not a good reason for the crying to stop. The only way to make things better for those who stand over the casket of a loved one is to get that loved one back. And this is what Jesus did.
“And Jesus gave him back to his mother. “
Philip Yancey has written about the reality and the promise of Easter as the day when we will get our loved ones back. As Paul put it in I Corinthians 15:20- 26 –
Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep… For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death.
The only I can do this afternoon at the funeral of this19 year old girl who died way too young is to point unswervingly to the Savior. As I will say in my comments in just an hour or two –
A long time ago a man named John caught a glimpse of what things were going to be like when God finally got done fixing everything that‘s gotten broken in this world. He wrote –
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” And he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. (Revelation 21:1-6)
Now, what John saw was in the future; it still is for us. Today there are tears in our eyes; one day they’ll be wiped away. Today death appears to have the victory; one day death will be no more. Today we mourn, and cry and ache; one day we’ll rejoice, and laugh and be made whole. That day is not here yet, but it’s coming, and it’s sure because God got it started 2,000 years ago when Jesus Christ was born in Bethlehem’s manger, and died on Calvary’s cross, and got up out of a borrowed tomb early on a Sunday morning, and sent His Spirit to indwell and empower us just as soon as He got back to heaven. The day is coming when God will complete His saving work in Jesus Christ, and everything John saw in his vision will come to pass. Oh, it’s not here yet — today is proof enough of that. But if we can bring ourselves to trust what God is doing in Jesus Christ, then there is a way to real peace here this afternoon.