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“Rabbi Jesus Ruins a Funeral”
Luke 7:11-17


Pastor Kevin Vogts
Holy Cross Lutheran Church
Dakota Dunes, South Dakota
Third Sunday after Pentecost—June 9, 2013

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.  Amen.

In most denominations the normal route for becoming a pastor generally requires three years of seminary education along with a year of internship.  That historic pattern is actually based on the Gospels, because we read in them that for three years the apostles traveled with Jesus as he preached and taught the people.  That traveling band was really the first Christian seminary, because as Jesus taught the people, he was also teaching the disciples too, and preparing them to be the first Christian pastors.  Those three years with Jesus was their combined seminary education and pastoral internship, learning from the Good Shepherd himself to be shepherds of God’s people.

In order to prepare to be a pastor, I attended our synod’s seminary in St. Louis and served my pastoral internship, which in our denomination is called a vicarage, in New Jersey.  Within the first few weeks my supervising pastor asked me to conduct a funeral, which was good experience, but presented me with a very unusual problem.  Although I was 24 years old, I had never personally known anyone who had died.  So, the first funeral I ever conducted was also the first funeral I had ever in my life attended.  I wasn’t sure what funerals were supposed to be like, and I remember being really nervous, because I was afraid that I’d mess the funeral up for the family, and I was also being evaluated on my performance by my internship supervisor.

The Gospels record that as he traveled about during those three years of his earthly ministry, Rabbi Jesus was involved with four funerals.  But, he didn’t do things by the book, and if Jesus had been a student rabbi, he probably would have failed the unit on funerals.  Three funerals he attended, and he ruined every one of them.  The fourth funeral he was supposed to be involved with, he didn’t even show up as expected.

The first funeral Jesus ruined was of a young man at the town of Nain, as recorded in today’s Gospel Reading.  Jesus wasn’t even invited to this funeral, but he butted in anyway, and ruined it.  “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.”

The next funeral Jesus ruined was of the daughter of a man named Jairus.  At least he was invited to this funeral.  “One of the synagogue rulers, named Jairus fell at Jesus’ feet and pleaded with him, ‘My little daughter is dying. Please come and put your hands on her so that she will be healed and live.’  But some men came from the house of Jairus, ‘Your daughter is dead,’ they said. ‘Why bother the rabbi any more?’  Ignoring what they said, Jesus told the synagogue ruler, ‘Don’t be afraid; just believe.’  When they came to the home of the synagogue ruler, Jesus saw a commotion, with people crying and wailing loudly and morning for her.  ‘Stop wailing,’ Jesus said.  ‘The child is not dead but asleep.’  But they laughed at him.”

I worked as an archeologist excavating tombs only about 20 miles from where this funeral of Jairus’ daughter took place.  One of the tombs from before the Christian era was of a little girl about Jairus’ daughter’s age.  On the tomb was a heart wrenching inscription: “Flora, Lived Eleven Years, 3 Months, 9 Days; She Is Gone Forever.”

The mourners at Jairus’ house know THAT’S what a proper funeral is supposed to be like, hopeless gloom and sadness: “She Is Gone Forever.”  But, then this rabbi interrupts and says, “Stop wailing; the child is not dead but asleep.”  What kind of rabbi is this?  Doesn’t he even know how to properly conduct a funeral?  It’s so outlandish they laugh at him.

“But after the crowd had been put outside, he went in and took the girl by the hand and said to her, ‘My child, arise.’  Then her spirit returned and immediately the girl got up.”

The next funeral Jesus ruined was of Lazarus.  Even though Lazarus and his sisters Mary and Martha were some of Jesus’ closest friends, he arrives for Lazarus’ funeral four days late.  Fortunately, the mourners are still there, and at first Jesus seems to be a little more traditional in his approach at this funeral. John reports he was “deeply moved” as he goes and stands before the tomb, and we are told simply, “Jesus wept.”  Finally, a funeral that’s going the way a funeral should. 

But, then this unconventional rabbi once again makes everything topsy-turvy, with a strange request: “He came to the tomb, a cave with a stone laid across the entrance.  ‘Take away the stone,’ he said.”  First, he arrives late, and then he wants them to open the tomb?  “But, Lord,” Martha said, “by this time there is a bad odor, for he has been there four days.”

“‘I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, even though he dies, yet shall he live.’  So they took away the stone.  Then Jesus called in a loud voice, ‘Lazarus, come out!’ And the dead man came out.”  Another funeral ruined by Rabbi Jesus.

And the last funeral recorded in the Gospels that Jesus was supposed to be involved with, he didn’t even show up, at least not in the way expected.  “Very early in the morning, the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb to anoint Jesus’ body.  On their way to the tomb they asked each other, “Who will roll the stone away for us from the entrance of the tomb?”  But when they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had already been rolled away.  As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man dressed in a white robe sitting on the right side, and they were afraid. “Do not be afraid,” he said to them. “You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified.  He is risen! He is not here.” 

This time he was supposed to be the guest of honor, but Jesus ruined his own funeral by not even showing up.

“Because I live,” Jesus says, “you also will live.” If a funeral is supposed to be only hopeless gloom, then Jesus wants to ruin your funeral too.  “For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.”  Although a funeral certainly is still a time of sadness, just as Jesus himself wept at the grave of his friend Lazarus, Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection means that your funeral can also a time of hope. For, just as Jesus raised from the dead the young man at Nain, and Jairus’ daughter, and Lazarus, just as he rose on Easter morn, he promises you, “Even though you die, yet you shall live.  For I will raise you up at the last day.”

Amen.

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