Isaiah 25: 6-9
John 11: 32-44
St. Luke’s Church, Burlington
1 November 2009
Come again? Aren’t we talking about Saints? Don’t we mean the famous people of the Bible like St.s Peter, Paul, James and John, Mary and Martha? Or the famous saints in Church History like Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, Francis, Teresa or John of the Cross? Aren’t those the Saints that we celebrate on All Saints day?
Well, yes, they are Saints, but that isn’t all that the word, “Saint” means. St. Paul, when he writes to the different Churches around the Mediterranean Sea often addressed his letters: to the Saints in Ephesus or Achaia, or sometimes he wrote to the Church as those who are called to be Saints. Paul understood the word, “Saint” to mean the faithful people of the Church.
When I celebrate the feast of All Saints, I really want to celebrate all of the Saints: those famous ones, and those whom I have never met, and perhaps which very few have ever known. We are all connected, and this is what is meant by the words, “Communion of Saints.” It means that we are part of something which is bigger than what we perceive with our senses. It means we belong to a community which stretches before, through and beyond even time itself. It is called the community of saints.
And so today we meet, in the Gospel, the story of Jesus bringing abundant life into a situation which seemed without hope. Jesus raises Lazarus, his friend, and the brother of Mary and Martha. The scene is charged with emotion. Mary cannot help voicing her disappointment with Jesus: “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” Mary’s faith in Jesus is strong. She knows that he could have saved her brother.
Everyone is weeping, and Jesus, seeing their tears, is moved to weep as well. There are some Christians who seem to think that weeping and mourning are signs of weakness, or of lack of faith. But Jesus shows us that tears are holy. When we weep, when we mourn, we do not do so alone. The Gospel says that Jesus was deeply moved. Jesus, in the depths of his soul, is moving in Holy space and time. And in this holy movement, Jesus reaches through to life. Our tears of mourning can bring us to life as well.
Martha’s common sense speaks about human experience regarding death and decay: “Lord, already there is a stench, because he has been dead four days.” Our common sense can trick us as well. We, too, can become trapped in the practical, the mundane, the concrete - so much so that we can even come to believe that all of reality is contained simply in the physical world!
Jesus knows there is more. Life isn’t to be contained. It must be freed to move and walk and to dance, even. Life must escape the tomb. Jesus gets the people around him to help. He says, “Take away the stone.” And they move the stone from the entrance to the cave. And, it says, “Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!”
Why did Jesus have to cry out so loudly? What is it in us that needs to be roused from our cave? Have we become comfortable in there? Are we used to it now? Do we feel protected in there? Are we afraid of the freedom and movement of new life?
No matter: Jesus’ voice can call us out of there. And Lazarus arrives at the entrance to the tomb, still bound up like a mummy! And Jesus gets the people to help once again. “Unbind him, and let him go.”
This is the reason that we belong to the Communion of Saints. This is why we are a Church. We have work to do. Our task is to roll away stones, to unbind and let go free. Our task is to witness and further the movement of life in the midst of death, and joy flowing along with the tears.
There are others who will try to close all that life up, to bind it and bury it, to sink into hopelessness, fearing to move - thinking that they are simply alone.
But we are called to be Saints. We are called to be deeply moved, as Jesus was: and even to weep, and then to act: to break open the tombs and unbind those held captive and to move with them.
What we celebrate today is this life which is free: the life which Jesus came to proclaim to us. This life is what we witnessed in our loved ones who have gone to join the communion of Saints. And it is the life which is renewed in them beyond our sight. And it is the life which is symbolized by a feast, as the Old Testament says, “The Lord of hosts will make for all people a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines, of rich food filled with marrow, of well-aged wines strained clear. And he will destroy on this mountain the shroud which is cast over all people, the sheet that is spread over all nations; he will swallow up death forever. Then the Lord will wipe away the tears from all faces. ..... Let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.”
Today we are blessed to have among us those who have been mourning their loved ones this year. They are a blessing to us because they remind us of this story of Martha and Mary, mourning their brother Lazarus. They remind us that mourning is a holy thing and something which Jesus sanctified with his own tears.
Those who mourn are also a blessing to us because Jesus walked into that sad scene and brought life with him. Jesus brought Lazarus out of the darkness and death of the tomb into the light of life.
Jesus promises us that he will bring us and our loved ones to new life as well. We simply need to obey his command: “Come out”
We too, just like Lazarus, can leave the darkness of the tomb, and walk in the light of day. And we can be people who roll away the tomb and unbind others to give them the freedom of faith.
Today, let us remember our loved ones with love and with the certain hope of a life which is stronger than death and which bursts forth out of the tomb into freedom. Amen.