Luke 7: 11-17
It is inevitable that things, all manner and sorts of things will come to an end. Birthday parties conclude. Parades cease. The music from your very first dance with the love of your life ends. You scrape the bottom of a mayonnaise jar only to find that there is none left, not one trace. You’ve reached the end of that jar and you must chose another condiment for your sandwich because there are all sorts of possibilities when you’re out of mayo.
Endings come in all shapes and sizes, some with happy or relieved emotion and there are some very sad endings. Such is the case or it would seem today as we reflect upon the story of the widow of Nain in the Gospel of Luke in our lectionary reading.
Jesus has called his first disciples and his Galilean ministry has begun. People gather from faraway places to hear him, places like Judea and Jerusalem, Tyre and Sidon. They had all come to hear this Jesus fellow and maybe even to witness - or better yet to be a part of - one of his miraculous healings that they’ve heard about through the ancient pipeline. But then he comes to a grassy plain and begins to talk with them. Like the Sermon on the Mount it is filled with blessings, woes and good council on how to live a life that is pleasing to God rather than Caesar.
And after he had finished all of this he began to walk on to Capernaum. He was making his way south when he happens upon a funeral procession.
Let us now hear the story as recorded in the Gospel of Luke the 7th chapter.
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.
Imagine if you can, being with Jesus that day. You’re walking in the sun of Galilee and the skies are a virgin Mary blue without a cloud. It’s not too hot but it is a tad humid and the sunflowers are in full bloom. The almond and fig trees are bearing their fruit. He is talking and in the distance you see a funeral procession walking slowly from the home of the deceased to the burial cave. His body had been lovingly prepared with spice and ointments, they are in no hurry and in fact the procession stops to make lamentation after all he was so young.
And Jesus is distracted from his discussion and he begins to focus in on a woman in the crowd of mourners and he had great compassion for her. He singles her out from the crowd and walks up to her and speaks gently to her, don’t cry, do not weep. You see she was a widow already and now, her only son had died. She was now alone and she had everything to lose. After that day she would be dispatched to the margins of their society and forgotten about.
But Jesus we know has a kind heart, a heart filled with love and concern and compassion particularly for those on the fringes. So he touches the bier of her son as the bearers stood watching. I think the muted silence, except for a few weeping sounds, must have filled with wonder, fear, or maybe expectation. What was he going to do going against all the purity ordinances of first century Judaism? Well we know what he is doing. He is performing a miracle. He raises the son, he gives him another chance to live out his days taking care of his mother.
This is nothing short of a beautiful resurrection story - in fact a couple of resurrection stories - the way in which God intervenes when life seems to be at a very low point. In this story the widow of Nain and her son both received new life that day. He from his premature death, and she from the stigma of being a social outcast. We can assume that they both lived until a good ripe age when resurrection to eternal life becomes their reward.
I think that we, as a congregation, are at the crossroads of resurrection. We have seen and lived together through many endings since I’ve been here. And yet again we will need to awaken and stretch out our arms to embrace the new life, new energy, and new ideas that will come before us. Sure we’ve been in the redevelopment mode and will continue to be until the work of redevelopment is finished whenever and however long that will take.
But with Beth’s retirement we need to acknowledge that another significant ending is happening for us. And while this is a sad and bittersweet time, it also a time to pull out our Easter glasses and look through the lenses as a time of resurrection where new life will arise. The relationship between Beth as the Youth Director for the congregation and youth is now transitioning into Beth our fellow congregant. And I know that will be hard.
But it is a transition that is essential to Beth’s future and to ours. The vows that we made before are an intentional way of releasing her fully into the future that God is calling her. God is ‘doing a new thing’ with Beth (Isaiah 43:19) as the prophet Isaiah says. Who are we to stand in their way?
For fifteen years Beth has guided our youth, many who are now adults. She has led them into the bowels of this church playing games of Sardines and led some serious scavenger hunts unearthing history and quirks of the sanctuary. She has baked many a cookie and pie and has sung many a carol with them shepherding them from one place to another. She has instilled a thirst for justice and hope by taking them to Overlook Farm for Heifer Project and building homes at Habitat for Humanity. She has accomplished much with our youth and has built a strong foundation for their future and strong foundations never crumble.
It is this strong foundation from which she can move forward answering God’s new call upon her life and it is our strong foundation and her legacy from which we will also build a future for our youth. It’s a win-win situation as far as I see it.
And so we release Beth into her future, as the rabbi’s quote Psalm 84, she will go from ‘strength to strength’. And we turn toward our future with anticipation and excitement because God is doing a new thing with us too. We too will go from strength to strength. As Jesus intervened at the funeral procession and brought forth life to the widow at Nain and her son, God will intervene for us when we think all is lost and God will help us to envision something brand spanking new.
When endings happen it’s not a bad thing. In fact it’s a good thing! So there’s no more mayo!!@#@$ There’s spinach, there’s cheese, there’s a fried egg, there’s Chilouli sauce, there's ketchup, there's mustard… why there’s even strawberry jam with Jalapeno.
And let all the people say, Amen.