1 Kings 17:17-24
v.17 After this the son of the woman, the mistress of the house, became ill. And his illness was so severe that there was no breath left in him.
Dear friends in Christ, our text for this morning follows on the heels of our O.T. reading from last week when the prophet Elijah was directed by God to travel to Zarephath in order to be fed by a widow, during a time of great famine. Elijah's coming brought hope and joy to the widow and her son. For, when he arrived, she imagined she was about to make their last meal, after which they would both starve and die. But with the coming of the prophet of the Lord--with the Word of God he proclaimed--there came hope and promise--for the jug of oil did not run out, nor the jar of flour--and so they ate for many days--they lived--and they had joy!
But now, on this day, tragedy strikes. The widow's son becomes ill. She tries every remedy she knows, but he only grows weaker. She prays and prays, but his laboured breathing grows more and more shallow, until he stops breathing altogether. The heartache of this mother is vast and understandable. She lashes out at Elijah--"What have you against me, O man of God? You have come to bring my sin to remembrance to cause the death of my son!" Why did you come? To give me a glimpse of hope and then snatch it away? What was the point? Better we had both died long ago than my son die, while I yet live. Her words even hauntingly echo St. Paul's in Romans, "the wages of sin is death." She knows. She knows all too well that sin brings only death.
And so do you, dear friends. Some of you have even felt this particular pain in that you have had a beloved child die. You know the heartrending agony that this woman experienced, first hand. Nonetheless, we have all lost loved ones. We have all felt the pain and sorrow of death. And so we have all cried out to God, at one time or another, seeking answers. "Why, God, why? Why have you allowed this suffering…this evil? Was it merely to remind me of my own sin…my own impending death? I don't understand!"
The prophet Elijah has no answers. He simply asks the woman to give him her son. He takes him upstairs to his lodging and lays him on his own bed. And then Elijah cries to the Lord, "O Lord my God, have you brought calamity even upon the widow with whom I sojourn, by killing her son?" Elijah has no firm answers, but he has hope. For he knows that the Lord is the living God. He is the God of life and not of death. Elijah knows and trusts that the God who can make it so that the jug of oil does not run dry, nor the jar of flour be spent, has the power to even restore the life of the dead. So Elijah prays to the Lord. He stretches himself upon the child three times and prays, "O Lord my God, let this child's life come into him again."
And the Lord heard the voice of Elijah, and the life of the child came into him again, and he revived. Elijah scoops up the boy and carries him down to his mother with the only words that had any hope of comforting this distraught woman, "See, your son lives." And with those words, the woman's weeping turns to joy. Tears of sorrow to tears of gladness. What a great miracle! What an incredible story!
Beloved, would you be surprised to hear that this story is also your story? Indeed it is. Truly, we are blessed at St. Paul today to witness this very story in action, once again. For little Wren Elizabeth Swenson will be [has been] baptized into Christ Jesus. The threefold stretching of Elijah over the widow's son foreshadowed the threefold application of water in God's triune name upon all who are baptized: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This is no small thing, dear friends, but a miracle of resurrection in the face of death.
For we are all by nature conceived and born in sin. Therefore, we are all doomed to die, for the wages of sin is death. But, as St. Paul says in Romans 6, "Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized in Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? We were buried therefore with Him by Baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with Him in a death like His, we shall certainly be united with Him in a resurrection like His."
Do you recognize these words? These words are repeated at every funeral for every member of our church. We recognize that in Baptism we have been united to Christ into both His death and resurrection. Wren Elizabeth, not quite one month old, this day has died and risen again. Her sinful flesh was drowned in the waters of Baptism. Her sins washed away by the redeeming flood of Christ's own blood that He shed on the cross for her and all people. But the story doesn't end there. For even now, Wren, and all who are baptized and believe in Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour, have been raised to new and everlasting life. Hence, the power of sin and death has been undone. Forever removed from those who live in their Baptism. Eternal life belongs to Wren, even now, just as it belongs to each of you, dear friends.
Beloved, this same story was told in our Gospel reading, but even more fully. For therein the Lord of Life Himself, Jesus Christ, interrupted a funeral procession. Moved Himself with great compassion at the sorrow and distress that death had caused the widow of Nain at the death of her son, Jesus acts. He stops the procession and speaks His life-giving Word directly into the ears of the dead man, "Young man, I say to you, arise."
These same words have been spoken to Wren this day at her Baptism, as they were to each of you at your Baptism. For having been washed with water in the Word, Jesus has spoken directly to each of you, "I say to you, arise." Just as He has spoken these words to all of our loved ones who have been baptized and have died in the faith. They live, even now, with the Lord Jesus, awaiting the Last Day, with all of us, when Christ will descend in great power and majesty and speak His living, resurrecting Word over the whole earth, "I say to you, ARISE!" And then, we and all the faithful will rise to new and everlasting life in glorified bodies, to live in holy communion with Jesus and all the saints forever.
Indeed, this story is so amazing, so miraculous, so wonderfully unexpected, that we can't help but confess with St. Paul in our epistle reading for today, "Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen." Truly, God works wonders that far exceed anything we can dare ask or think. He has rescued us through water and the Word from our greatest enemies of sin, death, and the power of the devil. Freely, no strings attached. Jesus' blood covers over us all, from generation to generation, as the Spirit continues to work faith and love in our hearts through the Word and Sacraments. You have died…and risen again! Thanks be to God in Christ Jesus. Amen.