The Third Sunday after Pentecost
The Rev. George Pejakovich
Luke 7:11-17

I AM CERTAIN WE HAVE ALL HEARD THE PHRASE THAT EVERYONE LOVES A PARADE. WELL, SOME PARADES WE LOVE MORE THAN OTHERS. AS YOU MAY KNOW, I AM A GRADUATE OF WEST POINT. AT THE GRADUATION PARADE, THE GRADUATING CLASS LEAVES THE FORMATION OF CADETS AND MARCHES ACROSS THE PLAIN TO PLACE ITSELF AT THE FAR LEFT OF THE LINE OF ALL THE GRADUATES PRESENT. THE CORPS OF CADETS THEN PASSES IN REVIEW TO SALUTE THE NEW GRADUATES AND ALL THOSE OF THE LONG GRAY LINE WHO HAVE GONE BEFORE THEM. AT THE FAR RIGHT OF THE LINE OF GRADUATES IS THE OLDEST LIVING GRADUATE OF WEST POINT. HE, IN MY DAY HE WAS ALWAYS A “HE,” HOLDS THE PLACE OF HONOR ON THE RIGHT; AND, AS A NEW GRADUATE, IT SEEMED TO ME AS IF HE WERE VERY FAR AWAY. WHEN I ATTENDED THE FORTIETH REUNION OF MY GRADUATION, I LOOKED TO MY RIGHT AND WAS ASTOUNDED AT HOW CLOSE TO ME THEY HAD PLACED THAT OLD GUY IN THE WHEEL CHAIR; IT SEEMS I HAVE MADE MUCH PROGRESS IN THAT PARTICULAR PARADE.

THE OLDER WE GET, THE MORE IT SEEMS AS IF LIFE IS A PARADE OF PEOPLE PASSING OUT OF OUR LIVES. THIS PAST YEAR, JOYCE AND I SPENT MUCH OF OUR TIME DEVOTED TO TWO DEAR FRIENDS AS THEY PASSED OUT OF THIS LIFE, AND, EVEN NOW, WE ARE SPENDING AS MUCH TIME AS WE CAN WITH ANOTHER DEAR FRIEND IN HIS LAST DAYS. AT ONE POINT, MY LOVELY WIFE CRIED OUT, “ALL MY FRIENDS ARE DYING!” THIS IS ONE OF THE SADDEST PARTS OF GROWING OLDER, BEYOND THE ACHES AND PAINS AND OTHER COMPLAINTS OF AGING, THAT WE GET TO BE THE SPECTATORS AS WE WATCH OUR FRIENDS AND LOVED ONES PASS BY IN A GREAT PARADE FROM LIGHT INTO DARKNESS, EVEN AS WE TOO MOVE ALONG THE LINE.

IN OUR GOSPEL FOR TODAY WE HAVE THE STORY OF TWO PARADES MEETING ON THE OUTSKIRTS OF THE TOWN OF NAIN. ONE, COMING OUT OF THE TOWN, WAS LED BY SOME MEN CARRYING THE BODY OF ANOTHER MAN ON A BIER TO A PLACE OF BURIAL. FOLLOWING THE BIER, WEEPING, WAS THE MOTHER OF THE YOUNG MAN, AND FOLLOWING HER WERE A LARGE NUMBER OF THE PEOPLE FROM THE TOWN. WE CAN UNDERSTAND WHY SHE WAS WEEPING, BECAUSE SHE HAD LOST HER ONLY SON, BUT, ALSO, BECAUSE SHE WAS A WIDOW, SHE HAD LOST EVERYTHING IN LOSING HIM. THERE WERE NO SOCIAL SUPPORT AGENCIES, NO OLD AGE PENSIONS, TO PROVIDE FOR HER, AND, AS A WOMAN, WHATEVER PROPERTY THE SON OWNED REVERTED, ON HIS DEATH, TO THE CLOSEST MALE RELATIVE. AFTER SHE BURIED HER SON, THE CHOICES LEFT FOR HER WERE TO SIT IN THE STREET AND BEG, OR SIMPLY STARVE TO DEATH. THE LARGE CROWD THAT FOLLOWED HER INDICATED THAT HER SON WAS WELL LOVED AND SHE WELL RESPECTED, BUT THEY COULD DO NOTHING FOR HER OTHER THAN SHOW THEIR RESPECT THIS ONE LAST TIME.

FOR THE OTHER DIRECTION, HEADING INTO THE TOWN OF NAIN, CAME ANOTHER PARADE. THIS ONE WAS ENTIRELY DIFFERENT. AS SOMBER AS WAS THE FIRST PARADE, THIS ONE WAS JOYOUS. AS QUIET AS WAS THE FIRST, THIS ON WAS NOISY WITH TALK, AND LAUGHTER AND PROBABLY THE SINGING OF PSALMS AS IT MOVED ALONG. LEAD BY JESUS, WITH HIS DISCIPLES BESIDE HIM, A GREAT CROWD FOLLOWED ALONG. JESUS HAD BEEN DOING WONDROUS AND STRANGE THINGS, AND GETTING ALL THE COUNTRYSIDE EXCITED OVER WHO THEY THOUGHT HE WAS, AND WHAT HE MIGHT DO. HE HAD JUST LEFT THE TOWN OF CAPERNAUM WHERE HE HAD HEALED THE CENTURION’S SLAVE, AND, NOW, WAS HEADING INTO NAIN.

THERE COULD HAVE BEEN NO GREATER CONTRAST BETWEEN THE TWO PARADES AS THEY MET, AND BLENDED TOGETHER, ON THE OUTSKIRTS OF NAIN. THE FIRST WAS PROBABLY A BIT PUT OUT ABOUT THIS SOMEWHAT ROWDY SECOND GROUP DISTURBING THEIR GRIEF; THE SECOND WAS PROBABLY SLOWED AND SOBERED BY THE SIGHT OF THE FUNERAL THEY STUMBLED UPON. AS WE ARE REMINDED IN THE BOOK OF COMMON PRAYER, “IN THE MIDST OF LIFE WE ARE IN DEATH;” AND HERE, LITERALLY, THE PARADE OF LIFE MET THE PARADE OF DEATH.

THE COMPASSION THAT JESUS FELT WAS FOR THE MOTHER, AND NOT OVER THE DEATH OF HER SON. DEATH IS A PART OF LIFE, AND JESUS DID NOT GO AROUND RAISING ALL THE DEAD IN GALILEE; HE DID SO HERE FOR THE SAKE OF THE POOR WOMAN WHO WOULD HAVE SUFFERED UNFAIRLY AND UNNECESSARILY BECAUSE OF THE RELIGIOUS CULTURE’S FAILURE TO OBEY THE LAW OF GOD. TO CARE FOR THE WIDOW AND THE ORPHAN IS BASIC TO THE UNDERSTANDING OF THE LAW OF GOD, AND SINCE THE MISGUIDED RELIGIOUS TEACHING OF THE TIME WOULD NOT ALLOW IT, JESUS DID. HE RAISED THE YOUNG MAN SO HE COULD CARE FOR HIS MOTHER.

WHEN JESUS RAISED THE YOUNG MAN FROM DEATH, HE DID NOT HAND HIM OVER TO HIS MOTHER, OR RESTORE HIM TO HIS MOTHER, HE GAVE HIM TO HIS MOTHER. HE GAVE HIM TO HIS MOTHER AS A GIFT OF GOD’S GRACE. WHEN THE LORD OF LIFE TOUCHES YOUR LIFE, YOU BELONG TO JESUS, AND YOU ARE HIS TO USE AS HE SEES FIT. WHEN THE PARADE OF DEATH MEETS THE PARADE OF LIFE IN JESUS, LIFE IS THE VICTOR. WHEN WE ARE TOUCHED BY JESUS, AND ARE CLAIMED BY HIM, THEN IN BOTH LIFE AND DEATH WE ARE HIS, BECAUSE WHEN HE CALLS US AND CLAIMS US WE ARE HIS NOW AND FOREVER; TO LIVE FOR HIM AND WORK FOR THE KINGDOM OF GOD AS HE DIRECTS, AND TO LIVE WITH HIM IN LOVE IN LIFE AND IN DEATH.

EVEN THOUGH JOYCE AND I HAD A DIFFICULT AND EMOTIONAL TIME THIS PAST YEAR, WHAT SUSTAINED US AND COMFORTED US WAS THE UNWAVERING FAITH OF OUR TWO FRIENDS AS THEY APPROACHED DEATH. BOTH OF THEM KNEW THAT JESUS WAS THE LORD OF THEIR LIVES, AND NEITHER ONE SHOWED ANY FEAR OR ANXIETY OVER THEIR IMPENDING DEATH. BOTH OF THEM SAID, “I AM NOT AFRAID,” AND THEY COULD SAY THAT WITH CONFIDENCE BECAUSE THEY KNEW THAT JESUS HAD TOUCHED THEM AND CLAIMED THEM, THAT THEY WERE HIS, AND THAT, EVEN IN DEATH, THERE WAS THE CERTAIN HOPE OF THE NEW LIFE IN CHRIST JESUS.

“GOD HAS LOOKED FAVORABLY ON HIS PEOPLE,” INDEED; FOR HE HAS GIVEN US HIS ONLY SON, SO THAT, EVEN IN THE FACE OF THE PARADE OF DEATH, THE PARADE OF LIFE EVERLASTING GOES ON. AMEN.

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