6-2-16 - Disrupting Funerals

The disrupted funeral is a staple of movie and television comedies. From people taking items out of or putting items into caskets, to unintentionally comical eulogies, to bodies spilling out or going missing, the funeral scene is often a yuck-fest (in more ways than one…).

The gospel scene we are exploring this week was not mined for laughs, but Jesus most certainly disrupted this funeral as it proceeded out the city gates to the burial ground. Once his compassion is drawn by the sight of the grieving mother, Jesus approaches the procession:

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.

Imagine the furor that must have exploded in that moment – people screaming, fainting, pressing closer to see. And the young man, restored to life, sitting up and speaking, as though death had caught him in mid-sentence. What did he think of this turn of events? What did his mother say? Luke tells us only that “fear seized them all.” No kidding.

Luke focuses less on the scene itself and more on the impact it had on the onlookers. We too are invited to widen our lens. How does this event, recorded in just one gospel, speak to us, beyond the suggestion that perhaps our prayers in the face of death are too tepid?

Pulling the camera way back, we can see in this scene an icon of the whole gospel message: in Christ, God entered human history to disrupt our funerals, to disrupt and disable the machinery of death itself. Paul called death “the last enemy” and wrote that “death has been swallowed up in victory.” (I Cor 15:26 and 54) The writer of Revelation proclaims that in the new heaven and the new earth “death will be no more.” (Rev 21:4). When we proclaim the resurrection life, we are disrupting our funerals. We assert that death is not the last word for those who are in Christ Jesus.

Funerals and mourning rituals are important for us, and they are rightly solemn. We need to mark important transitions in our lives, to celebrate those who have mattered to us, to make space for grief and strong emotions, and a good funeral does all of that. But let’s remember the Good News in the midst of death. Let’s not forget that God is in the business of disrupting not only death, but everything that separates us from God’s love, every bit of the world’s “business as usual” we think is our lot.

The Episcopal burial liturgy ends, “Even at the grave, we make our song: Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.”
Friends, the alleluias have already begun.

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