Someone from our church dies nearly every week. If that happened in most churches in America, complaints would be made to the local health department. Fifty-two funerals a year would cause most churches to close their doors forever. But if a church is large enough (and ours qualifies), a funeral a week is part of the ministry of that local congregation. The pastors distribute responsibilities; musicians are contacted; one of the pastors meets with the family; a committee of volunteers prepares a meal for the family; and the mortuary coordinates with the cemetery. Announcements are made, a time for viewing is arranged, and people come. It happens every week where I live.
Wherever Jesus went, he upset the status quo – even at funerals. Luke tells the story of how a funeral procession was transformed from a dirge into a dance. Jesus and his disciples – followed by a large crowd of spectators – were on their way to the village of Nain. As the entourage approached the city gate, a funeral procession was on its way out. The only son of a widow lady had died, and the mourners were accompanying her and the coffin as it was carried to a place of burial. Luke commented,
“When the Lord saw her, his heart overflowed with compassion”
Jesus interrupted the procession long enough to stop death in its tracks. He said to the widow, “Don’t cry.” And with that he walked over to the coffin and touched it. Then he said, “Young man, get up!” And you know the rest of the story. The boy sat up and began talking to those in the funeral procession. The Scripture says, “And Jesus gave him back to his mother.” And the celebration began.
Three powerful truths make this story so different from most funerals. First, the Lord saw her. She did not run to Jesus and beg him to bring her son back to life. For her, it was too late. Had Jesus shown up a day or so earlier, things might have been different. She had lost her most valuable possession, and no one could bring him back to her. No power was great enough to change what had happened. She was so weighed down with grief that she didn’t even notice Jesus. But he saw her. And everything changed.
The second truth here is that Jesus not only saw her, but his heart overflowed with compassion. Jesus didn’t merely acknowledge the heartbreak this day had brought to the woman. He didn’t just step aside to let the funeral procession pass by. He stopped the casket bearers to restore life to a dead son. He raised the boy from death to life, not to draw attention to himself, but to demonstrate his compassion toward this woman.
There is a third truth here. No one is ever lost in a crowd when Jesus arrives on the scene. He sees us as individuals, not as members of society. The miracle was not only for the son or for the town or for the disciples. The miracle was for a mother whose heart was broken.
Someone reading these words today is hurting deeply. Something within you has died. Perhaps it was someone you loved. Perhaps it was a hope you cherished. Maybe it was a business that failed. Perhaps you have been told that you don’t have long to live. Maybe your church has voted against you. Perhaps your plant has closed and you are without work. Maybe you are just old and tired, and no one seems to care. The news is very good. There is Someone who cares.
Whatever your situation, and however serious the problem, Jesus understands your fears. He hurts with you. He opens his arms and invites you to draw close to him. He wants to touch you with his compassion, his mercy, and his grace. His invitation is ever the same:
“If you are tired from carrying heavy burdens, come to me and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28)
You are singularly important to him. He will stop everything – even a funeral – just to lift your burden.
From Tuesday Mornings, a weekly source of encouragement for Christians everywhere. For a free subscription, write to Dr. Tom Barnard at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tom Barnard is executive assistant to the president of Eastern Nazarene College, and professor of religion.