In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.
Dearly beloved in Christ:
Processions. We've witnessed a lot of them in the last several weeks. Processions around the United States during Memorial Day observances. Processions here at Redeemer for the last two Sundays - to mark Pentecost and Holy Trinity Sunday. And this Tuesday there will be a procession to the polling places to commemorate election day here in California.
But processions are, by their very definition, different than mere parades. Processions are more somber, more intentional, more revealing about life in this world and the things we really believe in, especially when things aren't going the way we might want.
"Everyone loves a parade." We who live in and around Huntington Beach should understand that — in a community that prides itself on having the biggest parade in the United States. "Everyone loves a parade." Just take a look at the excitement during Mardi Gras.
But not everyone loves a procession. Because a procession forces us to face the reality of what we have become as fallen, weak, helpless, poor and miserable children of our first parents — our first parent who lost it all in their power grab for glory and prestige and the limelight of being the ones in charge and calling the shots.
Precisely because of humanity's fall into sin — our fall into sin — we now not only have parades, we have processions. Processions that give witness to a fallen and dying world. Processions that proclaim who we have become under the tyrants of sin, death and the devil. Processions that confess our inability to fix the mess we have gotten ourselves into.
For the last several weeks there has been a procession of those who's livelihood depended on the beaches and the waters of the Gulf of Mexico. A procession of trading in fishing nets for oil containment boom and chemical dispersant sprays. A constant witness to the feeble abilities of industry and government and society to provide a quick fix to the threatening forces in the world — the overwhelming forces in our lives and in the lives of those around us.
You see, processions in a world twisted and infected with sin are as old as our first parents. Take a look at the generations of God's people before the advent of Christ. Processions that wandered in the wilderness. Processions of chained captives being lead into Babylon. And processions of sacrifices to the Tabernacle and Temple to give witness to the need for a once-for-all redemption from the spiritual Pharaoh and his eternal grip on each of us.
Processions define us. Who we have become. And before Christ, what defined us was an endless procession of failure to love God, the maker of heaven and earth. Before Christ, what defined us was an endless procession of despair. A hopeless procession that trumpeted the seemingly unstoppable chorus of, "Dust you are, and to dust you shall return."
The Holy Gospel According to Saint Luke, the Seventh Chapter:
Soon afterward [Jesus] went to a town called Nain, and his disciples and a great crowd went with him. As he drew near to the gate of the town, behold, a man who had died was being carried out, the only son of his mother, and she was a widow, and a considerable crowd from the town was with her. And when the Lord saw her, he had compassion on her and said to her, “Do not weep.” Then he came up and touched the bier, and the bearers stood still. And he said, “Young man, I say to you, arise.” And the dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother. Fear seized them all, and they glorified God, saying, “A great prophet has arisen among us!” and “God has visited his people!” And this report about him spread through the whole of Judea and all the surrounding country. (Luke 7:11-17 ESV)
We can't imagine a darker, more hopeless situation. The untimely death of the only-begotten son — of a woman who had already lost her husband, and with it her ability to adequately provide for her needs and the needs of her son. She has now lost her precious son. Her only means of support. Her last comfort and joy. She is left alone and grieving.
We can't imagine a more pitiful and heart-breaking situation. And neither could the townspeople of the little village of Nain. Their hearts went out to this woman lost in the poverty of her miserable situation. They process with her in silence — out of the town, out of the place of the living to the place of the lost, to the place of those taken by sin and the consequences of sin.
Yet, in the midst of hopelessness, in the midst of complete despair, in the midst of the seemingly unchangeable effects of death and disease, the most unlikely of men comes to put his hand on the situation and call all to follow him as he begins a procession only he can lead.
The procession our Lord Christ leads was what the patriarchs of old had put their trust in, what they, in faith, had always looked forward to. This is why Joseph had left instructions concerning his remains, that they would be prepared for the day Christ would lead his people out of Egypt to the Promised Land.
The coming of the procession of our Lord Christ is what Abraham and Isaac and Jacob held on to — in life and in death. This is the revelation announced by Elijah to the widow in Zarephath.
The advent of the Messiah's procession. This was the song of angels before prophets and shepherds outside Bethlehem.
Jesus begins a new procession. He said as much at the beginning of his public ministry before the people of Nazareth when read from the pulpit:
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives
and recovering of sight to the blind;
To set at liberty those who are oppressed;
To proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Luke 4:18-19 ESV)
Jesus stops a funeral procession in its tracks, and with his touch, with his "gives-everything-it-promises" Word, begins a new procession that leads dead and dying people back, into the land of liberty, the land of the Gospel, the land of God's eternal grace and favor.
This is the witness of the Christian Church until Christ comes again in all power and glory: everything has changed as our Lord Jesus turns around our procession — the march of fallen, sinful, dying people — and makes it his procession.
Jesus' calls out to all who will listen with the ears of faith: follow me. Follow my lead. Follow my way: from Bethlehem to the Jordan, from Nazareth to Nain, to the place of your redemption: to Jerusalem. To the Upper Room to the Mount of Olives. To Calvary.
That day Jesus confronted sin and the deadly consequences of sin. In touching the dead, Jesus proclaimed what we and all believers give witness to: Jesus was sent to lay aside the glories of heaven as he took upon himself our weakness and despair and grief over what we have done and what we have failed to do.
What is our witness as a Christian congregation? Get God to notice you by doing great things for him? Make a difference in the world and then God will bless your efforts? Surrender all and then God will give you everything you want?
Our witness continues to be simply a finger point to God's gift of grace, God's gift of faith, God's saving gift of his Word: his Word made manifest through prophets and apostles, and finally in the person of his very Son.
Who walked our road, who took upon himself our march to the grave, that we would be lead on a procession of life eternal.
Do you believe this morning that you are beyond God's grace and forgiveness? That because of your sin there might be forgiveness and restoration for other but not for you? Do you find yourself dead when it comes to turning your life around and living a holy and acceptable life under the Word of God?
Then look to Christ's procession.
A procession to the his Cross. A procession to the his Font. A procession to his Table. A procession to his unexpected way of salvation. In God-given trust, let Christ lead.
May Christ in his mercy continue his saving work in the places and times he has promised. And may Christ in his grace continue to give us as Christians — and as a Christian congregation — the ability to witness to the reality of the world's dead-end parades, and in the way of the Cross — Jesus' procession of Life. Amen