A Sermon for All Saints Day
Pastor Jim Kniseley presented this sermon at Resurrection on the Festival of All Saints, November 1, 2009. The gospel reading is John 11:32-44.
Dear Friends in Christ,
There was a time when All Saints Day didn’t mean much to me. It was a time before I had experienced the death of someone close to me. When I was almost 15 my grandmother died. And now that all of my grandparents and my parents have died, I appreciate this day more than I could ever have expected. This is the day in the life of the church when we remember our loved ones who have died, we each face our own mortality, and we can feel closer to heaven and our departed loved ones than on other day of the year.
The gospel reading today is a good one for All Saints Day. It encourages us to understand death from a Christian perspective and it reminds us that Jesus has the power to raise us to new life.
It helps to put the story of the raising of Lazarus in context. The gospel writer John places this miracle account just before Jesus’ Entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday for Holy Week. The significance is this: this is a foretelling of what will happen to Jesus himself (his death and resurrection), and, this will be the last straw for the Jewish leaders. These leaders understand that if people believe that he has the power to not just heal people but bring them back to life, people will follow him and not them and that will lead to all sorts of problems. So the Jewish High Council, the Sanhedrin, determines a plot to do away with Jesus. That is chapter 12 of John’s Gospel.
Let’s back up to chapter 11 to see what happened with Lazarus. Lazarus is deathly ill and his family sends word to Jesus to come as quickly as possible in order to heal Lazarus. Jesus, however, is a full day’s walk away from Bethany where Lazarus lives with his sisters, Mary and Martha. Jesus does something “out of the ordinary.” He purposely delays going to Bethany two full days. John tells us that Jesus knows that Lazarus has already died and Jesus also knows that this will be his time to raise Lazarus from the dead in front of a host of witnesses and set the stage for his own death.
There are lots of tears in this story. When Jesus finally does arrive at Bethany, he is greeted by Mary who tells him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” She is crying. So are the friends who had gathered for the burial. So are the professional mourners that were always hired for Jewish funerals. Lazarus’ body is already in the tomb, but the custom was that this mourning and weeping went on for a full week. And John tells us something about Jesus. “Jesus began to weep.” In some translations it says simply, “Jesus wept.”
John tells us that Jesus was “greatly disturbed” and went to the tomb. He looked upward and prayed, “Father, I thank you for having heard me. 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.” Then he cried out with loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” And John tells us: “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.”
And so we learn something about Jesus. He is painfully aware of his own impending death, he sees and feels the utter grief in his friends Mary and Martha, and he knows that God has sent him to this earth for a purpose. So, with the full authority of heaven, he is bold to say, “Lazarus, come out!”
On this All Saints Day 2009, we too look forward to resurrection and new life. Out in the narthex we have the Tree of Life and today four new leaves have been added. The names of 4 Resurrection members who have died and entered eternal life are on those leaves: Lulu Boldt, Doris Moser, Shelley Fields and Loren Parde. We will remember them today in our prayers.
The Tree of Life is first mentioned in Genesis 3. It was gift from God to Adam and Eve. It was in the Garden of Eden and they could eat of it and live forever. One of the consequences of disobeying was banishment from the Garden and not being able to eat of the fruit of this tree. In the Book of the Revelation, we are given a glimpse of heaven from John’s Vision. He tells us that in the Heavenly City of Jerusalem, there are two thrones, one for God and one for the Lamb. From the thrones the River of Life flows down the middle of a great street through the city. On either side of the river is the restored Tree of Life which has 12 kinds of fruit, and the leaves are for the healing of the nations.
Today we Christians understand how you can have tears and feel joy at the same time. Our tears are real because of the pain of separation between this life and the next. Our joy is real because we believe that death is a door to eternal life. And we look forward to being reunited with those we love in heaven. They are secure and happy. We are the ones who have to wait.
On this day, we the Saints Militant, still on earth, greet our Saints Triumphant, in heaven.
Thank you, Lord Jesus. Amen!