The Intersection of Life and Death
I read this story from Luke’s Gospel with the kids this morning, so it seemed like a good time to post this prayer from about a year and a half ago. Jesus is entering a town with a large crowd of followers just as a widow is leaving with a large crowd of mourners to bury her only son.
There’s so much that’s powerful about this story, tucked away in the early part of Luke and, at least in my experience, not given too much attention. But Jesus, you raise a man from the dead! A stream of mourners flowing into a busy intersection, and here you come with a torrent of followers all churning with messianic expectation. Who would yield? Who has the right of way? Like Ezekiel’s vision of the river flowing from God’s presence into the Dead Sea causing it to teem with life, death would have to yield to life here.
But you pause, draw near, look with compassion, give way to the widow’s grief. The author of life yields to a parade of death, touches death himself, and changes it all.
How I want to return to that feeling I had seeing a resurrection play once and the meeting of these two crowds and knowing what you were about to do. I wanted to shout it out, I wanted to stand and see, I wanted to cry in anticipation. They didn’t realize that they were about to be interrupted, that the savior himself would in some sense pull to the side of the road and acknowledge their passing grief. And that the savior would also feel and speak and touch and give.
I want to inhabit my world with this sense of anticipation at what you’re about to do, interrupting death and grief to give back what has been taken from so many mothers. Lord, pour out your river of life, your healing power, at all our deathly intersections. Let the gateway become a gateway to life and not a place of mourning and death. Give back to the mothers their children out of compassion. Turn the funeral procession into a block party. Do all of this especially for black mothers, who mourn and march continually for their lost sons. Have compassion, and lead all of your disciples to compassion—to yield, to draw near, to see, to feel, to act for these our friends. Impede our triumphal processions so that we might not rush along ahead of you. Teach us to pause with you.
This story foreshadows your own resurrection, the raising of an only son given back to his mother, the crowning achievement and victory of life over death. Jesus, you are always being given back to a church that knows how to interpret your death but not to receive your life and power. How we prefer you dead so we can carry you along in our agenda, our neighborhood, our way of life. Well, interrupt that too!
O church, receive back the one and only son, the Lord of life. Acknowledge his freedom to speak, to move, to direct. Receive back the living Christ, always on offer, but tucked away in church buildings and pious prayers and reverential distance from the grief of the world.
Feel with the crowd the fear and amazement at a son who speaks today, alive, at the intersection of life and death. Who occupies the intersections of injustice and righteousness, who takes back ground from the gates of hell itself. Do not carry a dead son to the farthest outskirts of the city, out beyond the walls, to be buried somewhere more peaceful. Follow the living son back through the gates and into the fray. Watch and pray and march, a swelling river of life-giving peacemakers who interrupt all the processions of death with the resurrection power of the son who died but was given back to us alive.
Lord, have mercy. Christ, have mercy. Do it again. Fill me with anticipation that I may stand and shout and run to where you’re about to break out.