Then he came forward and touched the bier, and the bearers stood still. And he said, “Young man, I say to you, rise!” The dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother. Fear seized all of them; and they glorified God, saying, “A great prophet has risen among us!” and “God has looked favorably on his people!” (Luke 7:14-16, NRSV)
This is one where the NIV soft sells things. The NRSV says, “Fear seized all of them.” The NIV reads, “They were all filled with awe.” Now, it is true that the historic meaning of “awe” has overtones of fear, but we are largely deaf to that. We are more prone to hear the catch line from the LEGO movie, “Everything is awesome.”
As a church, we have largely followed the NIV. We tend not to even comprehend why people would fear God. We certainly struggle to imagine Jesus — cuddly, loveable Jesus — being the source of fear.
I wonder why that is.
If Jesus showed up at the funeral, touched the casket, and had the dead son rise again in the midst of tears, how would we react? What would we do?
Most of the funerals I have attended have had a veneer of stoic formality about them. Tears flow. Tissues are passed. But all in all, in the presence of grief and death, people bear up and soldier on. We get done what has to be done.
If the dead man got up, I wonder what would happen.
Could it be that fear struck the people in Luke 7 because the truth suddenly hit home. The one who is Lord of life is also the Lord of death. Jesus can tear apart everything we use to get through the day. He shatters the comforting numbness that we wrap ourselves in to muscle through the hard parts of life.
No, he says. I am life in death. I am light in darkness. I am joy in sorrow. In me, you do not have to live with your head down and your shoulders straining to just get through the day. Rise!
Does that make you tremble at all? Is there any part of you that fears to let go of what you have so carefully constructed over the years to cope with a tragic and difficult world? Does even a small part of you say, “I believe, Lord. Help my unbelief”?
We will all close our eyes like the son at the funeral. We will all rise again.
That is wonderful news. It is good news.
But if we really reflect on what it means, if we consider the full meaning of these words, “He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead,” isn’t there something in us that quakes at the awesome truth of God?