As humans, when we come face to face with birth or death we instinctively stop. It’s like there’s a universal recognition of the sacred in such moments.
And in moments of birth and death we re-engage our sense of touch.
In modern, western, culture we’re funny about touch. And, sure, other cultures are funny about touch too, of course. But we, in particular, don’t generally like to be touched or to touch others unless the bond of intimacy is strong.
When intimacy wains we stop touching each other. And, don’t even think of touching someone who you aren’t close too!
But, when a child is born people start touching. We want so desperately to touch the child. We feel his fingers, his toes, his forehead, his chest. We want to rub the child’s back and scalp.
Even rough and tumble men with calloused hands melt in the presence of a baby.
You’ll even see people touch the mother with more frequency – as if touching her brings one closer to mysterious power of life.
In death we also touch more. When someone is dying we touch them. We’ll reach out and touch people in ways we have never done before, or haven’t done in a long time. Those calloused hands again reach out and hold the hand of another man, or another man’s wife, or a mother who hasn’t held those hands in decades.
When the moment of death has passed we might even touch the corpse (for a time, and usually only while still in a hospital bed), and we touch each other.
And, even in the funeral we will reach out and touch the casket. For me personally, as a priest, the most powerful moment of a funeral is the Commendation when I reach out my hand and flatten my palm against the head of the casket.
Even if I never new the man or woman while they were still alive, it’s a holy, profound moment.
In Luke chapter 7, Jesus is dealing with a lot of death. First he raises the slave of the centurion, and then the widow’s son.
When Jesus approaches the funeral procession of the widow’s son, Luke paints a picture of much grief. The widow/ mother is left bereft and alone. There are many people gathered from the town.
Even though Luke wrote these words thousands of years ago, we should instantly know the scene he’s writing about. How many times have we been there, in that crowd, with the presence of death hanging like a pall?
And Jesus comes forward and touches the funeral bier.
He reaches out his hand and touches.
He’s healed people and brought them back from death from great distances before, and so his power of life and health doesn’t seem to ever be dependent on his being on the spot.
He’ll pronounce healing by someone else’ faith. He’ll command someone to rise, or an evil spirit to flee with his voice.
His touch seems to be optional.
But, here, he touches with his hand.
And with his touch, the funeral procession stops.
Even those who were carrying the corpse knew this was a special touch. Maybe it was because the touch was coming from a special and famous rabbi – because there we certainly other people reaching out to touch the bier in this procession, for which the procession didn’t stop.
You can’t stop for everyone who wants to lay hands on a situation.
But, they stop for Jesus.
This was big. A solemn and holy moment.
And, they had no idea.
Jesus tells the man to sit up.
And he does.
The son of the widow is brought to life again by the touch of Jesus and his spoken word.
Last week, on Trinity Sunday we wrestled with a God that is so big and mysterious that we have great difficulty comprehending how He even exists. God’s very existence is a struggle for us. And that is troubling to the soul and mind.
But, here, we wrestle with the closeness of God.
We have a God, a Savior, who touches us – solemnly, profoundly, and with purpose.
And, isn’t that just as troubling?
Isn’t it so much more desirable to have a God who is at arm’s length? Maybe not a universe away separated from us by incomprehension, but certainly not a God intimately reaches out his hand and places it upon us.
We don’t do that.
Unless we understand ourselves as hanging on the precipice of birth and death. Unless we realize that we walk a tightrope, and in the balance is life itself.
Because this story isn’t just about some guy who is brought back to life. I mean, that’s great and all, but this story is about us.
As Luke crafts this story he saturates it in death. There’s a woman who’s a widow. She now a grieving mother. The corpse of her son is there. It’s a funeral procession.
This story has been dipped and coated in death. It wreaks of decay, despair, and grief.
And the one who is dead, is us. And Jesus, reaches out his hand and touches us. And he tells us to get up.
And do we? Do we even know we’re dead? Do we even know that there’s a lifeline? Do we even know that there’s a life that’s so much better, if only we get up as Jesus asks us to?
We get so comfortable in life that we think that everything is just normal – that all is ok.
We’re “fine.” We’re “good.”
We can even get comfortable in church-life, shuffling along making our way to our pew. Sitting attentively. Behaving. Going up for Communion when it’s time, and dropping our money in the plate when the nice man comes by.
We’re “fine.” We’re “good.”
But, no we’re not.
We’re either dead, or we’re being birthed by God.
And, when you put it like that, touching is just fine.
Bring it on.
Bring those calloused hands on, and stop the parade.
This is big. And we have no idea.