Sunday, November 4, 2018
All Saints Sunday
Of all three years of the lectionary cycle, this year’s All Saints readings have the most tears. Isaiah and Revelation look forward to the day when God will wipe away all tears; in John’s gospel, Jesus weeps along with Mary and all the gathered mourners before he demonstrates his power over death. On All Saints Day we celebrate the victory won for all the faithful dead, but we grieve for our beloved dead as well, knowing that God honors our tears. We bring our grief to the table and find there a foretaste of Isaiah’s feast to come.
Prayer of the Day
Almighty God, you have knit your people together in one communion in the mystical body of your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. Grant us grace to follow your blessed saints in lives of faith and commitment, and to know the inexpressible joys you have prepared for those who love you, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
Readings and Psalm
Isaiah 25:6-9 The banquet of the Lord
Revelation 21:1-6a A new heaven and a new earth
John 11:32-44 The raising of Lazarus
Title: Wake Up! And Live!
So, did you enjoy your extra hour of sleep? Did you wake up one-hour-more refreshed? So more wonderfully refreshed, that you lept out of bed embraced the new brighter morning, right? This has translated into singing louder, responding more resoundingly, listening more intently, am I getting it right? And its all because of that extra hour of sleep that you got.
Or did you open your eyes and grunt, as maybe you do on other mornings that don’t offer an extra hour of sleep? Did you groan, “another day?” Did you think about everything you have to get done today? Did you list everything you didn’t get done yesterday? Did you just lay there and call to mind the stressers that kept you awake last night? (Perhaps your supposed “extra hour of sleep” was really an extra hour of anxiety.) Did you open your eyes to images of plastic floating in the ocean? Of contentious midterm elections? Of caravans of desperados (as some who would have us fear)? Did you revisit the events of last Saturday in Pittsburgh? Did you open your eyes to a world that you would rather shut out? Not just one hour more of sleep, Lord. But 70 times 7 more hours of sleep, of escape, of avoidance.
Do you ever wonder how Lazarus felt about being raised from the dead? Think about it. There he was, resting in peace. So, how did Lazarus feel about coming back to the land of the living? And before you answer that too quickly with thoughts of: who wouldn’t want to come back from the dead. Consider that he was coming back to his occupied homeland. Coming back to the oppressive life under Roman rule. Embarrassing and corrupt collaboration between religious leaders and a foreign government. Coming back to a world where someone was always hungry, if not you than your neighbor. He had to know that things were getting more and more dangerous for his good friend Jesus. And if he wasn’t wishing to return to resting in peace right away, give it a few days, a week or two at most. Because poor Lazarus is about to see his good friend Jesus unjustly crucified. Not to mention the fact that it was the raising of Lazarus that pushed some of Jesus adversaries over the edge, pushed them to take the ultimate action.
Yes, Lazarus was sleeping. He was free from all that worldly pain. But then Jesus comes a knocking on his rock door and says, LAZARUS, COME OUT! Perhaps the waking Lazarus’ first thought was: Could you just give me a year or two more? But Jesus’ power is too great to let anyone sleep. To let any power, even death, separate him from his good friend. From any of his friends. And so here we are on All Saints Sunday. The day that we remember that Jesus shouts to all of us who are dead to sin COME OUT. And raises us up to new life.
For some of us this happened at baptism as infants. The water drowned our sinful self and we were reborn children of God through Christ’s resurrection and filled with the Holy Spirit for the living of this new life. Jesus has called to each one of us in water and word – COME OUT! And by the power of God’s Spirit, we are able to hear and answer that call.
Sure, there are days when living this new life seems impossible. We feel as if we are still bound up in the grave clothes that strive to keep us from living. How do you label those binding strips of cloth that seek to hold you down? How do you label that big rock that is blocking your way from moving from death into life, new life? A life that we cannot fully comprehend or fearlessly embrace, but that we journey forward into, joined to others in community, joined to Jesus through God’s mercy and grace.
Yes, this new life that we are called to, is freely given to us by the one who redefined sacrifice. A word we just don’t like to hear these days. With nothing to gain for himself, and everything to win for us who didn’t deserve it, Jesus held nothing back just to make sure we knew how real and everlasting this new life is. Held nothing back to turn sinners into saints.
On this day we remember those whose earthly life has ended, that great cloud of witnesses that continues to encourage us on, just like families, friends and fans who are cheering on marathon runners even as I speak. But we also remember ourselves, those who are raising up out of graves every day, reluctantly at times, but rising up with the power of our friend Jesus who weeps with us so that we might laugh, who lights our way even when we see only darkness, searches for us when we are lost, who feeds us at his table. Yes, these gifts, this meal, his presence are just a foretaste of the feast that is to come, that feast that satisfies us beyond our imagining, that banquet that Isaiah tries to describe with earthly terms but comes up short, I’m sure.
And, John in writing Revelation tries to represent the lift-the-roof joy that will fill the heavens when all creation is made new in this death conquering Christ Jesus. Perhaps, these days, you are like me in thinking that creation has a serious need to be made new. Like, NOW. It’s not quite advent yet, but our prayer might just be, Come, Lord Jesus, come quickly.
But until he does come, we are saints on earth. We are children of God. Followers of Jesus. Instruments of the Holy Spirit. We just can’t stay behind that rock. We can’t stay asleep. We can’t remain dead. There is enough dead in the world. We are called to confront it with life, new life, resurrected life, love-filled light-bearing life. It’s up to saints to witness to and spread the foretaste that we so enjoy at this table, in the word, in our community, in our healing, and in our serving. Besides, who just wants to lie there and smell.
So, awake, O sleeper, rise from death, and Christ shall give you light.
The Rev. Mark Erson,