Saturday, November 3, 2012

For all the saints

Isaiah 25:6-9; Revelation 21:1-6; John 11:32-44

On this day, we remember. We remember and give thanks for the saints who have gone before us, from long ago and from just yesterday. We give thanks for those saints who are role models for us today, and far into the future. Today, we remember all the saints.
The word saint refers to those who are or have been faithful believers in Jesus. Beyond that, the word in Greek means “holy one”. Long ago, God said to God’s people, “Be holy, as I your God am holy.” Being a saint, or holy, means we have set ourselves apart so that we may do God’s work in the world. Being holy means having a relationship with God; it does not mean we have to be perfect. For example, even St Peter put his foot in his mouth with Jesus on a regular basis.
We remember today those special servants whom the Church has named as saints, and those everyday faithful servants whose names are recorded only in our hearts and in God’s heart. We sing the hymn “For All the Saints” to remember all the saints, the famous ones and the unknown ones.
… I love how powerfully Jesus proves to us that God has power over death in this event in John 11. Our Gospel text today is the short version of a longer story. Jesus intentionally stays away from Bethany when he learns that his friend Lazarus is very ill. By the time Jesus does get to Bethany, Lazarus has been dead for four days. By this time his body has begun to decay. He was really, truly dead. First Martha then Mary approach Jesus and basically yell at him. They greet him with the words we have all shared –“If only.” “If only you had been here, Lazarus would not have died,” they cry.
Jesus asks where Lazarus’ body is, and they take him to the tomb. Jesus begins to weep. We are not told why he cries, but we get a lot of comfort in reading that Jesus sheds tears like the rest of us. Over the centuries, many scholars and lay readers have explained why Jesus cries. They say: He is angry that people don’t believe he can raise Lazarus from death. They say: He grieves for his dead friend. They say: He didn’t want such a large audience for what he was about to do, for fear that it might mess up the timetable Jesus has in mind. Personally, I believe Jesus cries with the sisters, sharing their sadness.
Over the objections of Martha, who knows what a decaying body smells like, Jesus asks for the stone in front of the tomb to be rolled away. Jesus then prays out loud, for the benefit of those present. Jesus wants to be clear that it is God who acts, not Jesus. Then Jesus calls out, “Lazarus, come out!” And Lazarus comes walking out of the tomb. He is still wrapped in his burial cloths, and Jesus says to the sisters and others, “Unbind him, and let him go.”
An important point here is that Jesus starts the process of freeing Lazarus by calling him out of the tomb; but then he turns the unwrapping over to the crowd. Unbinding Lazarus becomes a community action.
… When we grieve, we often feel that our sadness is a private matter, that no one else feels the way we do, and that we should stay home and cry alone, so we don’t bother other people with our sadness. It’s true that everyone grieves differently, but there are many things those who grieve have in common. Grieving with a community is very helpful. I love the way the widows and widowers at Hope take care of each other. It is community grieving, similar to what we see in the story of Lazarus and his sisters. We remember these saints, these people, these friends of Jesus.
The texts from Isaiah and Revelation are about community grieving as well. These texts are the stories of large numbers of people, whole communities, who are grieving. In Isaiah, the Jewish people are grieving the loss of their homeland; they are a thousand miles away in Babylon and worry that they will never see Jerusalem again. God’s words through the prophet encourage the people, promising them that God does indeed hear their cries and that there will come a day when they no longer weep for their homeland. We remember these believers, these children of God.
The text from Revelation, with its vision of a new Jerusalem, a new creation, reassures the people of the early Christian church that God does hear their cries of grief and frustration. They are being persecuted because of their belief in Jesus and their refusal to worship the Roman emperor. This passage gives the people hope that they will one day be free to worship Jesus whenever and wherever and however they wish. We remember these saints, these children of God.
Today, these three texts together can give hope to the people of the northeastern US and the Caribbean as they work to restore their lives and homes and businesses from the devastation caused by Hurricane Nancy. Just like Lazarus’ family, they cannot do this work alone. They need the support of the larger community of all the saints, including us here in Florida.
We remember on this All Saints Sunday that people we loved have died. We are sad that they are gone from us, and we rejoice because we have faith that they are with Jesus, no longer weeping, no longer in pain.
We remember on this All Saints Sunday that there are many people who have taught us about Jesus, those we have known and those we know only through the stories of their faith, twenty centuries worth of faithful servants.
We remember on this All Saints Sunday that there are many people who have suffered in the past for their faith. They have been Jesus’ witnesses. And we remember that there are many people today who are suffering from circumstances far beyond their control, brought by the power of Hurricane Sandy. We are the saints who will unbind them from their misery and let them go.

Please pray with me: Almighty God, you call us to be your saints. You comfort and strengthen us with your Holy Spirit. You call us into community, to help one another, to unbind them from whatever holds them. Fill us with your power, and guide us to create new lives for those who hurt. Amen