November 1, 2015
Gospel: John 11:32-44
32When 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.” 33When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved. 34He said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” 35Jesus began to weep. 36So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” 37But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?”
38Then Jesus, again greatly disturbed, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone was lying against it. 39Jesus 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.” 40Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?” 41So they took away the stone. And Jesus looked upward and said, “Father, I thank you for having heard me. 42I 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.” 43When he had said this, he cried with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” 44The 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.”
Greetings and peace to you, brothers and sister, on this All Saint’s Sunday. For those of you who may not know, I want to give a brief overview of this day, because things are a little different today than most. Today, we are remembering those who have died in the last year – a public recognition of the hurt and sorry that comes from death, but also a celebration of the lasting impact they have on our lives.
So I want to publicly acknowledge that some of you are about to face a very challenging time of life while an already challenging time of the year approaches. Some of you will be experiencing a lot of things for the first time without your loved one – Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years. For those of us familiar with loss, these times are often the hardest. It can feel hopeless, it can feel empty, it can feel void of connection, community, and meaning. It can feel like a part of us is missing, and we’re left to ask the question: “Where is God in all of this? Where is God in my pain and in this sadness?” This question is valid and frustrating, because we don’t have a perfect answer and the answers we do have at one point may seem like empty promises at another point.
So, where is God in our brokenness? Where is God when we are hurting? Well, I think our gospel for the day is a beautiful illustration and great place to start. In it, Jesus finds that his friend, Lazarus, has died and he’s met at first with an accusation – “Jesus, why weren’t you here? Why did you let this happen?” But Jesus doesn’t do what we so often see others do when feel accused – he doesn’t get defensive or get on a soap box and preach to them about heaven – but instead weeps with Mary and Martha. He journeys with them in their grief. He feels the pain that they feel and he feels the pain that we feel. When you are feeling the deep, unsettling grief, Jesus feels it too. He is not some far off God, too important to feel the pain of people. He enters into that pain and bears it with us.
And then he does a miracle – he reunites this family, broken by the chains of death. He calls, “Lazarus, come out!” and, we read, “the dead man came out.” And this miracle, I think, is the promise that we stand on when we are dealing with the turmoil and waves of grief.
Of course, we’d love it if Jesus would just make all our loved ones come back to us in body. Maybe we’d love it if God would just say some magic words and bring all our dead to life, but God is not some magician or a cosmic vending machine. Instead, God works out promises in a much different way.
Indeed, brothers and sister, we ARE reunited with our loved ones. We do experience community with them, the love of them, again. But it takes a different look than we might expect. And it’s not just in a mystical afterlife, but in the very bread and wine that bring us Christ. You may recall the last part of the Apostles’ Creed, when we confess together that we believe in the communion of saints. But what is that? What is the communion of saints? The communion of saints means that, in communion, we don’t just meet Christ, but we meet all who have died. It means that the act, this bread and wine of Holy Communion, isn’t limited to just those of us here right now, but to all who have ever had it. It means that all who have felt the presence of God and the love of Christ are present in this with us. Though time, space, and death may separate us, we are all called like Lazarus to come and be united together in communion.
And, like Lazarus, we come. Sometimes we come celebrating, other times hurting. Sometimes we come grieving, other times we comes rejoicing. Sometimes we come scared, hurting, and angry but no matter how we come, we find in this small, sacred meal together a communion, a deep community, with all whom we have lost.
And that’s maybe the most beautiful part of the kingdom of God. Through grace, we aren’t just given eternal life, we are given an eternal family – a family built on the cornerstone of God’s grace and mercy; a family that spans generations, continents, and languages; a family more complete than our biological family can ever be; a family that is present each and every time we hear the words, “The body of Christ, given for you. The blood of Christ, shed for you.” We aren’t just reunited with those that we know, but also with those whom we have never met, and yet, are intricately bound together by the body and blood of Christ.
So today, and any time we take communion, I encourage you to take it reflectively. I encourage you to receive it intentionally, taking time to ponder and wonder at the mystery of God’s work in this act. Take a moment, say a prayer, and seek God in this act. Don’t rush through it. Because this is a family reunion. We are reunited with those we have lost and those whom we have never met. This is communion, not just with those of us here, but with all the saints, all the people who have the grace and love of Jesus Christ.
Sisters and brothers of Christ, Jesus walks with you. Jesus calls you out like Lazarus. Jesus weeps with you. And Jesus celebrates with you. We carry each other and we find unity under the banner of grace and love. As we remember those who have died, on this All Saint’s Sunday we encounter them under Christ’s love and we encounter Christ in our collective grief and memory. We are united with Christ in both his death and his life, and that life is eternal. Amen.