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by Ted Schroder
September 9, 2007

There are three resurrection miracles in the Gospels. This one is unique to Luke, whose Gospel mentions women more than the others. His subject is the plight of widows, who are dependent on the charity of the community unless they have children who can support them. In the case of this widow from Nain, she is fortunate that she has a son. But you can imagine her grief when she loses him as well as her husband.

Jesus, his disciples, and a large crowd following him, seek to enter the town gate, when they encounter the funeral procession of this only son of his mother, and she was a widow. She must have been well thought of by her neighbors because a large crowd from the town was with her. (Luke 7:11-16) What an encounter that must have been: the community of Jesus, the Lifegiver, met the community of Nain on their way to the grave.

The first thing Jesus did was to respond to the needs of the mother. His heart went out to her, and he said, "Don't cry." Then he touched the coffin - an open woven basket - and commanded the young man to get up. "The dead man sat up and began to talk, and Jesus gave him back to his mother."

"Jesus gave him back to his mother." The promise of the Gospel is that death cannot take away from us what God has given us. "As you do not lose them in giving, so do we not lose them by their return. Not as the world gives, do you give Lover of souls. What you give you take not away, for what is yours is ours also if we are yours." (Bishop Brent)

The crowd was filled with awe and praised God. They said, "God has come to help his people." Jesus is presenting to us here a picture of God, whose heart goes out to those in distress, and who comes to help his people. When we are tempted to believe that God does not care, that he is indifferent to our fate, that he will not come to help us, we need to listen to this story. In Exodus we read that "God heard their groaning - he looked on the Israelites and was concerned about them....I have indeed seen the misery of my people...I have heard them crying out...and I am concerned about their suffering." (Exodus 2:24; 3:7) God heard the crying of this widow, and came to help her. Jesus gave her back her son.

What is the significance of this miracle? Ronald S. Wallace (Elijah and Elisha: Expositions from the Book of Kings) reminds us that Nain is near the town of Shunem where Elisha raised up the son of the Shunammite woman. She had been miraculously given a son, who suddenly died. It would have been natural for her to say, "The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord." (Job 1:21) Death is inevitable, and we have no guarantee that either our children or ourselves will live out our days, and die of old age. But this woman responded in a different way. She rebelled against what had happened.

She said to herself that this could not be God's will, that instead it must be the work of the Devil. God had promised her a child, and he had not meant to mock her through that promise. She refused to allow herself even to imagine for a moment that God's will could fail in fulfillment. She refused to believe that this could be the end of the blessing that God had brought into her life when he gave her this child. After all, she had not even asked God for this child. He had come to her as a gift spontaneously offered by him out of his goodness. The Lord who had been responsible for bringing this sunshine into her life would make himself responsible for seeing that it was kept there. She would refuse to accept the child's death as a final word.

Therefore she acted throughout as if this death was a short and accidental interlude in a story in which everything must turn out well. "It shall be well," she said to her servants. All the time she wore a brave face. She refused even in her appearance to admit that the Word of God could possibly disappoint her. She did not relax or rest until she got hold of Elisha the prophet, and then she poured out her wild and desperate feelings. She told him the whole story. She let him know that this matter was his responsibility, and she did not intend to let go of him until it was put right. "Did I ask you for a son, my lord? Didn't I tell you, 'Don't raise my hopes?'" (2 Kings 4:26) It was a strong argument. 'I never asked nor sought this blessing. You forced it upon me, and I accepted it in good faith. I let my heart grow around this little one, for you encouraged me to expect that I had a right to the happiness he brought. Now that he has been taken from me, I look to you to accept your responsibility to restore him.'

This was a faith that sought to lay hold and to keep hold, not only of the promises but also for the promiser. At certain times our faith is tried and we have to decide what we are going to insist on before God. In living our Christian lives we sometimes far too easily allow hopes and happiness to die that should be living and increasing as the years pass. There is a place in our Christian life for refusing to accept what seems on the surface to be the will of God. There is a place for rebellion against circumstances that do not seem to be in line with what God has promised us of his grace and power in Christ.

When Jesus encountered the widow of Nain, he was re-enacting this story with which they must have been familiar, and proving to them that God's higher will was resurrection and new life. Out of death came life.

Bob Buford writes about his son Ross, his only child, his heir, his successor, and one of his greatest heroes. Ross was a good human being - determined, energetic, caring - with wonderful people skills. On January 3, 1987 Bob got a call that his son had attempted to swim the Rio Grande River and had gone missing. He was twenty-four years old. Bob flew down to the Rio Grande Valley to join in the search. He hired airplanes, helicopters, boats, trackers with dogs - everything that money could buy. By three o'clock in the afternoon, he knew that he would never see Ross again in this life. He remembered walking along a limestone bluff above the river, as frightened as he had ever felt. He told himself: "Here's something you can't think your way out of, buy your way out of, or work your way out of. This is something you can only trust your way out of."

He remembered sending up a prayer: "Dear God, somehow give me the ability to accept and absorb whatever grace people might bring to me at this terrible time." They found Ross's body more than four months later about ten miles downriver. Before his body was recovered, Bob had found on Ross's desk at home in Denver a handwritten copy of his will. It read:

"Well, if you're reading my will, then, obviously, I'm dead. I wonder how I died? Probably suddenly, because otherwise I would have taken the time to rewrite this. Even if I am dead, I think one thing should be remembered, and that is that I had a great time along the way. More importantly, it should be noted that I am in a better place now." He directed how he wanted his earthly good distributed. Then he closed with this benediction: "In closing, I loved you all and thank you. You've made it a great life. Make sure you all go up instead of down and I'll be waiting for you at heaven's gate. Just look for the guy in old khakis, Stetson, and faded shirt, wearing a pair of Ray-bans and a Jack Nicholson smile. I also thank God for giving me the chance to write this before I departed. Thanks. Adios, Ross."

Bob writes, "As horrifying and sad as it was, and is, to have lost him, Ross' disappearance and death also provided the greatest moments of rare insight and grandest gestures of immeasurable grace and joy that I ever hope to experience. Utter emptiness and brokenness left me feeling awful and wonderful at the same time. Close and silent embraces from friends, letters and phone calls of concern and empathy, and gifts of meals prepared and brought to our home were much-needed signs of love. One letter, in particular shows us just how much Ross' life had been a witness to those around him:

Dear Mr. and Mrs Buford,

Ross and I were best friends. All that he had, Ross shared with me. He shared his thoughts and ideas, his pleasures and his pains; he shared a whole lot of laughter. But most of all he shared his love.

Well now Ross has a new best friend. And now Ross is with his new best friend. But just as before, Ross continues to share. Today Ross is sharing his new best friend with his old best friend.

I thank the Lord God for Ross,
and I thank Ross for the Lord God.


Despite the comfort of those words, I was forced to lean upon God entirely in those dark weeks after Ross' death, to think often of the Scripture verse 'Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not to your own understanding.' I learned that God truly is sufficient and that his strength is made perfect in weakness. I learned that in my life on earth I live as:

A pilgrim not In control

A steward not An owner

A soldier not With security.

There is a simple Quaker prayer about giving and receiving that I uttered the night after I lost Ross:

God, you have given my life into my hands. I give it back to you. My time, my property, my life itself...knowing it is only an instant compared to my life with you (and with Ross) in eternity. Father, to you I release the cares and concerns of this world, knowing you loved me enough to give your only Son in my behalf. I'm a sinner in need of a Savior, and once again, I accept what you have done for me is sufficient. In Jesus' name. Amen.

Ross used his gifts to the full each day. He didn't shortchange himself, even though his days among us were so few. Ross' death, while tragic, was an inspiration to me to burn brightly while it is day." (Half Time, Bob Buford, 54-59)

Out of death came new life, as Bob dedicated himself to living out the promise of his son's witness and service. How we handle the death of our loved ones is a measure of our faith in the Lord of life.


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