Medical schools starting two centuries ago faced a continuing need: corpses. They needed recently healthy corpses. They needed the pregnant, children, old or diseased and mostly: fresh corpses.
Dying as a pauper in London or New York made a fair wager — your corpse passed to a dissection class before a grave. Medical schools harvested no corpses. Needing plausible deniability, there arose a trade providing corpses, and these men were bizarrely titled Resurrection Men, spitting on Christians’ hope of resurrection.
If caught, they faced grave robbing charges. Or worse, if police suspected he hurried anyone from this life to help doctors-in-training learn surgery — he faced death — and of course, a final turn ‘through’ medical school.
Grave robbers. Hearse thieves. Everyone — murderers, thieves, prostitutes — looked down on them and feared, desperately feared passing through their hands.
Christians were offended at such a title for these men. This ‘resurrection’ horrifically twisted hope in Christ.
But God has, if anything, a profound sense of humor, and a deep, deep sense of irony.
So Jesus hiked from the north country through valleys southward. At evening, He climbed up from the road to tiny Nain. Maybe Nain was built on Shunem’s ruins or nearby. And in tiny Nain where birth and death were bookends for few surprises, everyone could recite a time when God let a town woman push the great Prophet Elisha to attempt, to ask the impossible. All these centuries later, every child and agnostic knew the story. Elisha promised her a son. She bore him, and on a hot day in harvest he died. She rode hellbent for leather straight to Mt. Carmel where prophets commune with God.
And she answered the Prophet’s servant pointedly asking, “Is all well with you?”
“Is all well with your husband?”
“Is all well with your child?”
And she lied, or she believed more than a cooling corpse waiting in the Prophet’s room she built for him. “All is well!”
It shook him. Such faith. Such hope. Elisha rushed from the mountain to spend an afternoon begging God to relent and resurrect the child. God gave him back.
Centuries ago. Where legends live.
So, Jesus walking into Shunem/Nain stopped a funeral for an only son: a widow’s final hope. And disregarding all civility Jesus touched the hearse to talk to — the dead boy.
Who responded. Jesus helped him from the hearse, gave him back to his mother, and everyone paraded back into town, leaving a bewildered hearse driver scratching his head. The first victim of The Hearse Thief, doing a dress rehearsal for Himself soon enough, and all of us soon enough.
If Jesus wept at a later funeral, He surely smiled at this one, and God, as usual, had a laugh on any who call hearse thieves by such an exalted, holy title as Resurrection Man.