All Saints Day

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

Theme: All Saints Day
Sermon: “Sinners and Saints”

Today we are observing “All Saint’s Day.”

If you were fortunate enough to participate in the youth group event last Sunday evening, you know something about this pair of ‘feast’ days in the church, “All’s Hallow Eve,” and “All Saint’s Day.”

You might have also learned, if you are the inquisitive type, that All Saint’s is not actually what we call a ‘moveable feast,’ but is supposed to be celebrated on November 1st. Other celebrations move, say, like Easter; which is the first Sunday after the first full moon after the spring equinox. This movement moves a variety of other celebrations, not the least of which is Ascension Day and Pentecost.

And yet, I have exercised a certain amount of pastoral prerogative and moved a festival of the church!

One reason that I have moved this festival to today is so that somebody would show up. If I had insisted upon keeping the date, November 1st, I am reasonably sure that our celebration would have looked like some of the tapings of late night television last week, all of the leadership was present, but no congregation.

And this reason is also related to the second reason I have moved this celebration. I believe it is important to remember. On All Saint’s day we remember the members of this congregation that died during the last year and who are now gathered with the Saint’s in light. A little bit later I will read those names and the church bell will toll once after each name.

Although we are remembering specifically those dear ones who have most recently died, who can help but remember others? This time of year, every year, I also remember people who have been important in my faith journey. I don’t mean that I have their names written on an index card, tucked in my bible, marking the text ‘Revelation, chapter twenty-one, verse four.’ What I am saying is that almost without any bidding their names and faces, their acts of kindness, generosity, their shaping of my faith, comes to my memory.

And I am not forcing you to remember. Some people choose to not remember. It is not always easy to remember. It is easy to forget, but I mean that it is not always comfortable to remember. Grief, you see, is not something any of us can avoid. Like faith, grief is a movement rather than a condition. Grief allows us to accept the fact that while we may never ‘get over’ the death of a loved one, we can still cherish what they were to us, and with God’s grace we can work through it. Like the strips of cloth binding Lazarus, we, too can be set free.

While I don’t use the King James Version of the Bible often, I do happen to love it’s rendering of the raising of Lazarus. Jesus, after weeping and being emotionally moved, commands those around him to open Lazarus’ tomb.

There’s instant protest. Lazarus had been dead for a few days, and everyone knew that rolling that stone away wouldn’t be pretty.

Martha calls out: But Lord, he stinketh!

I love that.

Of course, John is the Gospel of Signs. There are seven signs, and the raising of Lazarus is that penultimate seventh sign, revealing Jesus’ identity as the Christ. But, as much as this sign is about Jesus, it’s also about us.

The Body of Christ, the community of the baptized, and the Communion of Saints – we are all Lazarus. We stinketh, until Jesus calls us out, frees us, and gives us life. In fact this is what binds us together, the biologically alive church and the biologically dead church: we have all been called out of the tomb and unwrapped.

In this sense, the raising of Lazarus isn’t just a miracle that Jesus performed thousands of years ago in a land far, far away. It’s the work of Jesus today.

So, we miss the point if today is reduced to sentimentalism.

There are two instances in the gospels where a disciple asks Jesus for a leave of absence to bury his father (Matt. 8:22; Luke 9:60). Jesus replies with what some observers categorize as a ‘hard saying.’ Jesus tells him, ‘Let the dead bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.’

Jesus’ words serve as a reminder for All Saint’s day. He is not insisting that we stop ‘remembering.’ Instead, he wants to set us free to follow him in this life. He wants us to remember that it is our faith in him that sets us free, in this life, and in the promise of heaven.

Jesus is not just assuring us of the resurrection at the last day, though the gospel of John includes that promise. He is affirming the notion that eternal life begins here and now. Earlier in this gospel, Jesus said, “Anyone who hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life, and does not come under judgment, but has passed from death to life.”

This is the freedom he offers. And this, I think, is worth remembering, especially today.