6-5-16 When a Parade Meets a Funeral

This a season of graduation and celebration. Lots of parties and accomplishments and processions. And yet it’s true that difficult events do not stop just because we are celebrating. There are individuals all through that graduating class and among the audience, who are nursing broken hearts, many of them recently broken, some seemingly permanently broken. That got me thinking, as I read our scripture reading for this morning, what happens when a parade meets a funeral? What happens when a genuine celebration of the Spirit meets a broken heart? What emotion finally wins? When Jesus is involved – good things happen.

Luke 7:11-17 Soon afterward, Jesus went to a town called Nain, and the disciples and a large crowd accompanied him. As Jesus approached the gate of the town, a dead body was being carried out—the only son of a widowed mother  A considerable crowd of townspeople were with her. Jesus was moved with pity upon seeing her and said, “Don’t cry.” Then Jesus stepped forward and touched the coffin; at this, the bearers halted.  Jesus said, “Young man, get up.”

The dead youth sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him back to his mother.

Fear seized them all, and they began to praise God.  A great prophet has risen among us,” they said, and, “God has truly visited us.” This was the report that spread about Jesus throughout Judea and the surrounding country.

June 5, 2016

When a Parade Meets a Funeral

My godson Connor Orr turned 19 yesterday. The birthday got me thinking about his wonderful graduation ceremony a year ago this week. It was a great celebration down in the DC area. Some of the young people had gone to that school most of their lives it seemed.

Connor was so happy. He had played on the soccer team and played music and this graduation procession was a milestone in his life whose significance I could feel even though I don’t get to spend that much time with him.

I hadn’t thought about a graduation procession as a parade until I was meditating on this sermon. But it is a kind of parade isn’t it? A parade of accomplishments, of proud young people, and proud teachers, and Connor, shy as he is sometimes, fairly danced down the aisle of the cathedral in this parade. (see picture)

It was only a little later that I heard that one of his classmates wasn’t there. One of his beloved classmates, Derrick Park, goalie on the JV soccer team, a guy who had been at the school for all of junior high and high school, had died the previous Thanksgiving after suffering freak concussions too soon together. When a parade meets a funeral, what happens? What do you do? Do you stick with the parade and ignore the funeral?

 

Jesus was just leaving Capernaum with a great crowd of people around him. It was like a parade really, a procession of triumph after Jesus had healed the son of a centurion. Everybody wanted to be with Jesus. Everybody wanted to be part of this fun scene. As they left the town, however, they ran right into a funeral.

A widow, a woman who had already lost her husband had now lost her only son. This was a deep tragedy, because women were defined by their relationships to men. Having lost her  husband, the widow’s only hope was the eventual status of her son. Otherwise she was destined to be cast out to the edge of society and find herself struggling in every part of her life. No wonder she was wailing so loud a the head of the funeral, mostly for the agonizing pain of losing her son, but also with real pain about what this means for her.

Jesus sensed all these realities in a moment. He knew what the death of her child meant to this poor woman. He didn’t hesitate a bit. He led the parade right into the funeral. He must have annoyed the widow even further when he told her to stop her weeping. Then he touched the bier, the stand on which the body lay. He didn’t even have to touch the body or ask the woman about her faith. He just touched the bier and said to the boy, “Get up, young man. Get up.”  And the dead youth sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him back to his mother.

 

When Jesus’ parade meets a funeral, the funeral is the event that is transformed, not the parade. The parade keeps going.

At Connor’s graduation, I was surprised to learn that Derrick Park’s parents were present. Just six months after their son had died in this awful accident, the parents found the courage to attend the graduation that their son was missing. Not long after his death, the parents had organized a great memorial service for their son at the school. Everyone came and paid their respects, and the family announced a scholarship fund in their son’s honor, encouraging innovative educational endeavors among faculty and students.

Derrick’s very real presence at the graduation was symbolized by a beautiful wreath with bright Vietnamese colors, right up on the stage. The parents were there, confident that the parade could overtake the funeral.

Much of the time, our lives feel more full of funerals or disasters than with parades. Pain and tragedy threaten to take over the celebrations of our lives. We pray for miracles that only rarely seem to occur, at least miracles as clean and remarkable as the one experienced by the widow of Nain. Sometimes there really are miracles. People are healed whom we never thought we’d see again. Lives change in ways that we thought were impossible.

Those kind of major miracles are not the norm however. Still, when we’re in the parade with Jesus, we may notice smaller miracles and gestures, like the one Derrick Park’s parents helped to create, smaller miracles take over the funeral and turn it into authentic celebration. We may be part of creating those smaller miracles in our lives by taking our own grief or pain and turn it into a chance to assist other people with similar grief or pain. We may feel like it’s impossible for us to recover at times, but then the Jesus parade passes us again, and we push ourselves to join in, to be there for other people, to do what we can, to share from the deep reservoir of love that comes from beyond ourselves.

As we prepare for Holy Communion this morning, I invite you to reflect on the painful experiences of your life that are in need of the resurrecting parade found in the power and presence of the Living God. We bring to the table any and all of these experiences and heartbreaks, confident that, though they feel overwhelming to us, in God’s hands they may be transformed and even become gifts in our lives or someone else’s.

Come to the table of grace this morning. Come receive the gift of bread and wine offered to feed your spirit, restore your reservoir and resurrect you from your worst fears. Come join the parade in this church and all the places where God shows up, ready to turn any funeral into rejoicing.