All Saints' Sunday, November 7, 2021

All Saints’ Sunday

November 7, 2021

The Rev. R. Allan McCaslin
Readings: Wisdom of Solomon 3:1-9, Psalm 24, Revelation 21:1-6a, John 11:32-44

From the Gospel according to John: “Jesus said to them, ‘Take away the stone.’” I speak to you in the name of God: Our Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier. Amen.

    Ah, All Saints’ Sunday – our celebration of the Feast of All the Saints. This is a holy day for Christians because it both proclaims and affirms the biblical truth that people of faith are never alone. Scripture tells us that not only is Godpresent with us in the midst of our everyday circumstances, so also are we surrounded by the Communion of Saints: that multitude which no one can number; the living and the dead in Christ; Holy men, women and children of every age and time, who, together and forever, pray for us and cheer us on as we continue on our own journeys of faith.

     Our First and Second readings this morning affirm the blessedness of the Communion of Saints: the pure of heart who embodied God’s values of love, mercy, grace and justice not just with their lips, but in their lives. The Book of Wisdom says that while the world often scoffed at these righteous persons and considered their lives a waste of time – that they were persons of no lasting value – nevertheless, they were precious in the sight of God then and still aretoday. Solomon says, “(Their) souls are in the hand of God.” They are at peace and the Psalmist says they forever stand in the presence of the God in whom they put their trust and who continues to bless them forever.

     The Revelation of Jesus Christ to St. John the Divine, describes the Communion of Saints as the Church Triumphant: that great company of souls redeemed by Him who is called the Alpha and the Omega – the beginning and the end: Jesus Christ our Lord who, through the waters of baptism, has grafted all who believe into his body and marked us as his own forever. The Revelation affirms the entirety of Hebrews Chapter 11, that while we might know about those who have gone before us only because they are named throughout history and through stories from scripture, we know them personally not for who they were or what they did or said, but for who they are:  our spiritual companions and prayer partners in life’s journey (Heb. 11:1-12:1). And scripture tells us that someday we will be physically joined with them and live with them forever as one united family of redeemed and blessed children of God.

     Our lessons echo the words of St. Paul (Rom. 8:38-39) who said, nothing in all creation; nothing on earth, above it or below it, nor principalities, nor powers, nor even death itself can ever separate us from the love of God in Christ. So, today’s scripture lessons affirm the promises of God to the Saints. So, what on earth does our gospel story about a dead man who, Mary says, is beginning to stink have to do with the Communion of Saints?

     The raising of Lazarus was the last and final of seven signs that demonstrated that Jesus is Lord of all. He performed his first sign when he changed water into wine at a wedding feast (2:1-12). Then, he healed the son of a royal official (4:43-54). This was followed by healing a man who had been paralyzed for 38 years (5:1-15). Jesus went on and multiplied a few loaves and fishes to feed five thousand people (6:1-15). He walked on water and calmed the seas that threatened the lives of his disciples (6:16-24). He gave sight to a man born blind (9:1-12). And now, in today’s reading, Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead (11:32-44). These signs reveal that Jesus is master over nature, disease, sickness, and even death itself. They show that he has the power to create, restore, and make new again that which has been broken, lost, or destroyed. He has the power to heal and to give life. These signs affirm that Jesus came to restore a broken, sinful humankind and to raise it to everlasting life with God. So today’s gospel reading affirms that Jesus Christ is our Lord: our Messiah and our Redeemer. But how does this story connect with the Communion of Saints and in the context of this Feast Day, we might wonder why, or what is it about this story that matters to us?

Well, in one word: everything! Because, beloved, we – all of us - are Lazarus. Because of our fallen nature, our sinful nature, “we are wrapped up lifeless corpses, bound in the grave cloths which the world lays on us. We are stiff and, in the words of our gospel reading, we have begun to stink. That is until – until! - Jesus orders that the stones that entomb us to be rolled away;  Until Jesus calls us out from our tombs of death: our tombs of complacency; our tombs of addiction and dependency; our tombs of consumerism and tombs of selfish pride. We are lifeless and stink until he orders everything that binds us and holds us down to be stripped off of us and tossed aside. We are lifeless until Jesus breathes his holy breath into us and makes us a new creation.”[1]

     And beloved, Jesus still calls us out today and I am grateful for that because I need to be called every day. I need to be called out by Jesus every day because I still stink – and at times, more than anyone else. I find myself bound up and wound up by the expectations of others, by my own insecurities, by my own sins. Jesus Christ calls us to step out, unwraps us, and offers new life. In this sense, the raising of Lazarus is more than a sign of Christ’s power; it is morethan a miracle performed two thousand years ago. It is the continuing work of Jesus Christ today and every day. Like Lazarus, Jesus loves us, weeps for us, and calls us out of bondage – out of our tombs - even those tombs and bondage of our own making – and brings us from death into life once more.

     The good news of this particular Gospel reading is that the story of Lazarus is our story: yours and mine. And it is an appropriate lesson for this day because it is the story and promise shared by the entire Communion of Saints. Like them, we were once dead and yet, in Christ, we, too, have been made alive. And that stench of hopelessness that once engulfed and clung to our bodies has been overcome by the smell of fresh bread and sweet wine presented to us as the Body and Blood of him who offered himself and redeemed us once and for all at Calvary: Jesus Christ our Lord; the Alpha and the Omega; the beginning and the end.

      Jesus unbinds us, redeems us, and sets us free, and welcomes us into that goodly fellowship of apostles, martyrs, prophets, evangelists, confessors, matrons and patrons, holy people of God – men, women and children who ever lived– that great Communion of Saints who forever pray for us and with us and cheer us on. You know, one day we willmeet them face to face and I think that we will discover that like us, they each bear the same middle name: the name Lazarus.

     Years ago there was a phrase touted by many Christians, many of us. It said, “Please be patient. God isn’t finished with me yet.” And so it is for the Communion of Saints. See, we – all of us - are still works in progress. There are times when we still stink as we resist God’s on-going work within us reshaping our hearts and minds into the very image of Christ. And yet, in spite of our own selves, “we are - all of us - Saints of God:” a people redeemed by the blood of him who said then, and still says today, “Take away the Stone.” And that is cause for celebration and more importantly, humble thanks because the Saints of God, in the words of the Wisdom of Solomon, abide in God’s love, mercy and grace not just today, but forever. And, friends, so do we! And for that reality – that daily reality – I say, “Thanks be to God!’ Amen.

 

 

 

[1] The Rev. Rick Morley, Reflections on John 11:32-44 (paraphrased and embellished.)