Isaiah 25: 6-9; Revelation 21: 1-6a; John 11: 32-44
Today, we recognize that death is part of life. We also remember that death is not the last word in our life. So, instead of the black of Good Friday and death, we wear the white of Easter and new life.
Isaiah is writing with hope about the future. The days look grim in ancient Israel. Babylon has been threatening, and the army is now advancing. The royal family and leaders are being transported to Babylon, a walk of 1,000 miles. Many have already died, many would die along the way. The city and beautiful temple would be destroyed. Their world is ending. The people are grieving.
In the midst of this despair, Isaiah offers these words of hope: we will once again feast on this mountain, in this place. The shame of being conquered will be lifted, and the conquering army will itself be defeated. God will wipe away every tear that we are crying today.
There are times when we cry as individuals and as families; there are times when we as a congregation weep; and there are times when we as a nation weep in despair. We weep because we feel loss. We weep because we are afraid. We weep because everything has changed.
We also feel angry. Jesus and Lazarus and Lazarus’ sisters were good friends. We have the sense that he was a frequent guest in their home. When Lazarus was ill, the sisters sent word to Jesus to come quickly. But, Jesus tarried; he intentionally waited until Lazarus was dead before he returned to Bethany.
One at a time, Martha and Mary confront Jesus. They are angry and sad and frustrated. This story is so human, it’s one of my favorites. They believe that Jesus can heal Lazarus when he is ill. But, they don’t imagine that Jesus can restore him to life once he is dead.
Jesus prays aloud so the gathered crowd can hear that it is with God’s power that he does what he is about to do. He calls, “Lazarus, come out!” and Lazarus comes walking out, still wrapped in the shroud and face cover of burial. The sisters run to welcome him back and to unbind the burial clothes. Jesus has certainly turned the tears of grief into the laughter of joy.
About 60 years later, the folks who believe in Jesus in what was then called Asia Minor were being persecuted for their faith. In some regions, the persecution was negligible; in other regions, it was intense. Persecutions affected many aspects of their lives, in the meat they purchased, the coins they used, their spying neighbors. Believers were forced to worship the emperor, or suffer in prison, even die in the arena.
In the face of such persecutions, such sadness and fear, John of Patmos wrote to the people in the churches about remaining faithful to Jesus despite the risk. Eventually, he wrote, the earthly power of the emperor and other earthly rulers would end. He wrote of the ultimate victory of Jesus over the evil one.
John of Patmos wrote of the joy the believers would find in knowing Jesus and his love for them. He wrote of the way that Jesus’ love would wipe away all their tears.
As Jesus’ hands on earth, it is our job to wipe away the tears of those who weep. And so we give to Hope, so we can wipe away tears right here in Citrus County. We give to the ELCA, we give to Lutheran World Relief and Lutheran Disaster Relief to wipe away the tears of those suffering from poverty, drought, earthquakes, and hurricanes.
Sometimes, the best thing we can do is pray. There’s a story in a recent issue of The Lutheran about a woman who prays. Diane began to pray for seminary students after reading an article about them. She sent little knit “prayer squares” in cards to the students, so they could hold onto them when things were difficult – when they were shedding tears. The prayer squares helped wipe away the tears.
In Belvidere, Illinois, a little girl was crying. She was tired of being poor. Her mother cried too. Then they heard the ice cream truck, recognizable blocks away because of the music it played. The only money in the house was in the daughter’s coin purse. The mother took it and followed the girl outside to the street where the ice cream truck played its merry tune.
The mother was delighted when they were told that Christ Lutheran Church was paying for ice cream for the neighborhood. The church members wanted to find simple ways to reach the neighborhood. It turns out they found a great way to wipe away the tears from some neighbors’ eyes.
In July, ELCA youth, including 4 from Hope, went to Detroit. Each youth and leader spent some time wiping away the tears from the eyes of Detroit residents. They cleaned up parks and empty lots, to make them usable again. They repaired or boarded up houses and homeless shelters. They covered graffiti with mosaics, and stacked diapers for delivery to families in need.
We often think of saints as the holy ones who have died, who had great faith, who did miracles. People like Peter and James and Paul and the martyrs who died in Ephesus and Rome 2,000 years ago. We think of saints as those whom we love who died in the past year – Lee and Ted and Ruth and Clayton and those we name in our hearts. These, we remember and shed tears for today. We call them all saints.
But the Greek word we translate into English as saints is hagioi – which means simply believers. Since we gathered here are believers, we also are the saints, called to wipe away the tears of those in our community who weep. It seems, at times, like there are too many who weep, and we are insignificant against all the tears. But, with the help of Jesus, we can do amazing things, wiping the tears of children and parents and seminary students and city-dwellers who have almost given up hope. This week, be on the lookout for someone who weeps. Is there a way to wipe away their tears?
Please pray with me. God of compassion, we need you today as we remember those who have died. Yes, we know they are with you. But we still miss them here, and ask you to wipe away our tears. Fill us with hope, grant us the sure knowledge that good things wait for us after our earthly death. And, in the meantime, send us out to wipe away the tears of those who suffer in any way today. Amen