All Saints Sunday Sermon, Year B; November 7, 2021
Happy All Saints Sunday—we choose this Sunday to celebrate, even though All Saints Day was actually last Monday, as always on Nov. 1st. But last Sunday was October 31st. Can you celebrate All Saints on All Hallow’s Eve? Probably so, but unlike Halloween, when our thoughts are on harvest time, the approaching winter, and maybe evil spirits, the Feast of All Saints invites us in song and prayer to recall the heroes of the faith.
The Apostles like Peter, Paul, and Mary of Magdala.
Martyrs like Steven, Perpetua, and Ignatius.
Evangelists like Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.
Without these persons, we would not know the story of Jesus. But there are others, of course, even modern-day heroes of the faith, in the 20th century: Mary Slessor, Oscar Romero, Martin Luther King Jr., and Dietrich Bonhoeffer, all who died teaching the peace of the kingdom of God which Jesus preached, and who inspire us to be braver in our discipleship.
So today we pray, “Lord, Give us grace so to follow your blessed saints in all virtuous and godly living, that we may come to those ineffable joys that you have prepared for those who truly love you.”
The words of this prayer offer hope for the Church, as we, the people of God, pray to receive God’s grace, to live virtuous lives that bespeak hope, and not just hope for a distant future. The hope we have abides in the grace God gives us now.
The raising of Lazarus may at first seem like an odd story to tell on All Saints Day. This is a gospel lesson we often read at burial rites. As a matter of fact, all of today’s lessons are listed as choices in our BCP to be read at a service for the burial of the dead.
My friend Deacon Jeannie Randall loves to tell the story about teaching a children’s Sunday School lesson when our daughter Hayley was in her class, years ago. Deacon Jeannie was Miss Jeannie then, and she was teaching a class of six-year-old children about Jesus dying on the cross and his resurrection. Jeannie said to the class, “What makes Jesus so special is that he is God’s son and the only person who ever came back alive from the dead and walked on this earth.” Then Jeannie sees out of the corner of her eye, an eager Hayley, raising her hand with great anticipation and Jeannie calls on her. “Yes, Hayley?”
“Miss Jeannie,” Hayley said, “what about Lazarus? He was raised from the dead.”
I’m sure Jeannie was thinking to herself, Oh my gosh, this is why people don’t volunteer to teach Sunday School. But Jeannie was not daunted, She answered,
“Yes, Hayley, that’s right; but then he died again, and stayed dead.”
“Lazarus, come out!” Jesus commands. The people around him are very skeptical.This is not like Jesus’ raising of Jairus’ daughter or the son of the widow from Nain. Lazarus, had been dead several days. Martha tells Jesus, “Lord, already there is a stench because he has been dead four days.” If we read the Greek in which this was written we’d find that Martha says plainly, “Lord, already, he stinks.”
Having wept at the loss of his friend, Jesus now cries out, Lazarus, come forth. Lazarus comes out of the cave, and Jesus tells them to unbind him. Lazarus lives again to show us “that resurrection is not just a future promise but our present reality.” (Lewis, K)
Like the story of Lazarus, Isaiah and Revelation also speak loudly of life: Isaiah prophesies a Messiah who will provide for us well-aged wines and who will swallow up death forever; The Revelation of John says God is making a new heaven and a new earth, God will dwell with mortals and will wipe away every tear from their eyes. Together with the story of Lazarus, then we see the inbetweeness of our lives:
We live with the reality of death BUT because of Christ, we are already enroute as a resurrected people. The trick is to live this way: to find in the here and now, in the saintly transformed life, reminders, hints, cues, even warnings that lead us to live as people of the resurrection.
I read recently someone’s work that said one of the issues with being human is we allow death to have its way with us. I’m still pondering that statement, not quite sure what she meant by it. But this I do know, if we embrace this Christian life of inbetweeness, of living in the “already, not yet” that Jesus shows us, and that Paul writes about extensively, and that the lives of the saints witness to, then death would not be our enemy; death would not have its way with us. We would live into the grace that God gives us in prayer. We would see that loving our neighbors, those different from us, is a way of conquering death.
We would see that offering our time to the suffering, mentally or physically, or because the world doesn’t count you as worthy, is a way of swallowing up death.
We would see God making all things new.
With God’s grace, we are able to see the saint in all of us.
We may read lessons from the burial rites on All Saints, but this cannot lead us to think that all the saints are just dead people. That is not what our children sung with us this morning, and it is not what we believe…’cause the saints of God are just folk like me, and you, living in the here and now, being called by our Lord to come out of the cave, and live, sharing in the promise of joy in this world and the next.
Thanks be to God.