Yep, this one got an eye roll (from me, and most likely others--although I couldn't tell, b/c I take off my glasses so I can't see their responses). Sometimes I'm in the middle...pause, and think "if I stopped right now, would anyone actually notice?" Oh well, sometimes the Spirit arrives, sometimes she's a wee bit too late. Makes you wanna read it, doesn't it?!?!?!
Has anyone ever seen a jack-a-lope? I’ve been told that they are a cross between a jack rabbit and an antelope—one of those never seen, but always sought after creatures in the heart of the Midwest. It took me an entire youth trip to the Black Hills of South Dakota to finally realize that there wasn’t such an animal. I’m not exactly sure why they spend so much time making stuffed animals and creating signs warning of their presence if there isn’t such a thing. I suppose to deceive and trick innocent and trusting souls like myself.
I’ve always tended to be a bit gullible. Actually quite gullible. I assume that because I never lie—which is a good thing for you all—that no one would ever really lie to me. I will believe pretty much anything that you put in front of me, because being rational is not part of my nature—letting myself get drawn into a good story or carried away with fanciful illusions apparently is.
And honestly that’s not all bad, because sometimes a story can tell you more about the world, than a newspaper article—and a fairy tale might explain human nature better than any textbook ever could. Scripture understands this. It often blurs the line between true, hard facts, and images that help explain something even greater—leaving us to simply be drawn into the story. Leaving us to suspend our rational, “that could never happen so why does it matter” minds at the door and put on an imagination that helps to see how God works in the world. We’re asked to accept burning bushes that are never consumed, building that fall with the blare of trumpets, believe it or not—there are even talking donkeys—there are bread boxes and wine pitchers that never empty and dead people that sit up and begin to speak. Each and every strange occurrence asks us to re-think what is real and what is not and invites us to experience something deeper.
Getting drawn in, lets you forget about trying to explain things away, and simply lets you listen to the story. Today two crowds collide. One is following Jesus, joyful, expectant, hoping and praying that the man they follow is set out to change the world. They follow, unsure as to the greatness that will happen next, but loving being a part of the story.
And the other crowd—the other crowd is mourning, following, not the Son of God, but the only son of a widow. Following not with grand expectations, but with the real, hard, concrete knowledge that death has come, and the young man’s smile will never be seen again. They follow, completely sure what is going to happen next.
And when these crowds collide, everyone’s world changes. For with Jesus, everything you were certain about, everything that seems to be true and rational gets left at the door. Because with a single word—Rise—this sure and certain death opens his eyes and begins to speak. Because with a single word, even death is no longer certain.
Most of you are probably aware that this last week, Margreta Hawbaker died. She was a faithful member of this congregation for decades, actually for nine and a half decades. She participated in worship, taught the children, served in the Lydia circle. I wanted so desperately for her family, for her friends, to hear a word of hope, to be able to cling to the faith that sustained Margreta throughout her entire life.
Using this reading for today would have been a beautiful option—But I was hesitant—do you really want to hear a story about the dead literally be raised at a funeral? Is the real, concrete reality that faces you as you gaze upon the face of your grandmother going to allow you to hear the word of hope in the word of Jesus? Actually, I think we could have…
Because you know—this son of the widow, he was still going to die. He was still going to live his life, be with his mother, maybe start a family, and then, he was still going to die—and that reality would once again face him. He would once again draw his last breath. But, this miracle, this raising, this thing that makes us question our rational nature, this points us to something greater. This miracle points us to a God that promises that even death, even the certainty of death, will not be the final word. This miracle points us to Christ, to our God who chose death, and who then in rising again made sure that death is not the end.
Our rational minds simply cannot understand. Because we experience death all of the time. We just watched as our dear friend was laid to rest, we watched as her family cried and although they rejoiced for her long life, they still mourn and wish for more time. Our rational minds simply cannot understand this illogical story, because we too feel pain and fear and sadness, and know that death does indeed come.
And, this is where our imagination—this is where our faith comes in. We draw on the strength of those who have come before us, we draw on the stories in Scripture, we go forward in hope, knowing that hope will never disappoint. We live knowing that even though death is here…and the funeral procession walks down the road, it is not the end. For Jesus will forever meet us, touch the broken pieces of our soul; will speak to the dead, weary places and give us new life. Jesus will meet us, each and every time—“Do not weep, my friends, but rise. For death is not the end and life will always be the final amen.