All Saints Sunday, November 4, 2018

The holy gospel according to John, the 11th chapter.  Glory to you, O Lord.

32 When Mary came where Jesus was and saw him, she knelt at his feet and said to him, "Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died." 33 When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved. 34 He said, "Where have you laid him?" They said to him, "Lord, come and see." 35 Jesus began to weep. 36 So the Jews said, "See how he loved him!" 37 But some of them said, "Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?" 38 Then Jesus, again greatly disturbed, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone was lying against it. 39 Jesus said, "Take away the stone." Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, "Lord, already there is a stench because he has been dead four days." 40 Jesus said to her, "Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?" 41 So they took away the stone. And Jesus looked upward and said, "Father, I thank you for having heard me. 42 I knew that you always hear me, but I have said this for the sake of the crowd standing here, so that they may believe that you sent me." 43 When he had said this, he cried with a loud voice, "Lazarus, come out!" 44 The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus said to them, "Unbind him, and let him go.”

The gospel of the Lord.  Praise to you, O Christ.  

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Creator and our Lord Jesus Christ.  Amen.

This morning we come together as the Christian family, the family of Christ, to celebrate the festival of All Saints.  This is the day the church remembers all those who have died in the faith.  In a sense, it’s the Christian version of “Memorial Day.”  

It is the day we come together to especially remember those members of our congregation who have died in the past year.  We celebrate those who were baptized this year and joined the church on earth.  We remember everyone we have loved over the years, who has claimed the promises of their baptism, and now rests with God. 

Our first reading today is the beautiful passage from Isaiah about the feast of fat things with well aged wines.  The prophet writes that God will swallow up death forever and wipe away every tear from our eyes.

Our second reading is from the book of Revelation where St. John writes about the new heaven and new earth - a glorious picture of life at the end of time when death will be no more and there will be no more pain, or mourning, or crying. 

Isn’t it interesting that in the first two readings, there is no more crying, all tears are wiped away. Then we get to the gospel lesson, the one with the well known verse, “Jesus wept.”  After weeping, Jesus raises his friend Lazarus from the dead.  It’s just a temporary resurrection, though, not like the resurrection of Jesus, not like the resurrection we will all experience on the last day when the trumpet sounds and God makes all things new.

So why the juxtaposition of weeping and tears being wiped away? Why raise Lazarus from the dead, only to have him die again? It seems contradictory, doesn’t it? Why raise someone who has to die again later? 

I think the message for us today is that although we have the reassurance of the resurrection at the end of days, God isn’t finished with us yet. 

Do you remember that saying?  “Be patient. God isn’t finished with me yet.”  I think that might be one of the points of the gospel today.  Lutherans are big on dichotomies.  We talk about the reign of God as something that is “Already, but Not Yet.”  

And maybe that’s the reason for combining the Lazarus story and the first two lessons today.  Maybe Jesus is trying to tell us that God isn’t finished with us yet.  We still have work to do here on earth.  

Lazarus still had work to do on earth.  His sisters depended on him.  In addition to their sorrow over the death of the brother they loved, Mary and Martha had another reason to grieve his death. As single women, they had no means to earn their own living in that culture, but were dependent on their nearest male relative for economic support. His death threw the family into turmoil.  

But God wasn’t finished with Lazarus yet.  This wasn’t just another miracle.  Lazarus, Mary, and Martha were friends of Jesus.  Jesus was deeply moved by the sisters’ grief and the grief of the crowd.  He wanted to show them how much God cares about us when we are grieving.  

So, what does Jesus do?  Jesus wept with the people who were grieving.  When you are grieving, Jesus weeps with you.  

The next thing Jesus did was pray.  When you are grieving, Jesus prays for you.  Remember this: When you are grieving - Jesus weeps with you. Jesus prays for you.

How often have we been like Mary and said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died?”  Or insert whatever happened that you wish had not happened.  “Lord, if you had been here…” Like Mary, we hope for a miracle, we want Jesus to bring back our loved ones, to restore them to community, to raise them from the dead, like he did for Lazarus. We also still want a Jesus who’ll show up and prevent mass shootings, provide housing for all homeless and end world hunger and all violence in the world.

Jesus isn’t with us now the way he was with Mary and Martha and the disciples, those biblical saints we honor on their special days. He isn’t walking around on the earth, raising people like he raised Lazarus.  But we still have his word and we still have the witness of the saints.  And, most importantly, we have his promise that he is always with us.  We have his promise that he will come again and make all things new.

It’s important to note what Jesus said after Lazarus came out of his tomb.  He told the crowd, "Unbind him, and let him go.”  

“Unbind him, and let him go.”  God wasn’t finished with Lazarus yet.  God still had work for him to do for a while here on earth.  

God isn’t finished with us yet either.  We remember those we have lost, especially those who have died this year.  We weep for a time.  Jesus weeps with us.  Jesus prays for us.  

But God isn’t finished with us yet.  God still has work for us to do for a while here on earth.  Some of us are sitting with Jesus and weeping and praying.  For some of us, it’s time for us to be called out of the tombs of our grief.  Some of us are being called out of the graves of our sadness.  

The rest of us are being called to “Unbind them, and let them go.”  We are called to the work of walking beside our grieving friends, weeping and praying with them, and then unbinding them.  Because God isn’t finished with any of us yet.  

Jesus died and rose to swallow up death forever. Jesus died and rose that we might live in that new heaven and eat that feast of rich food and drink that well aged wine, strained clear.

And when that last trumpet sounds and the dead are raised, and God wipes every tear from our eyes, when the gates and the ancient doors are lifted up, and the King of Glory comes in, then we will sing with all the saints in glory.  In the meantime… God isn’t finished with us yet.  Let us be glad and rejoice in Christ’s salvation!  Amen.