Thank God for Handkerchiefs!

 

The text for this sermon is Revelation 21:4, ďhe will wipe every tear from their eyes.Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away.ĒPastor Jim Kniseley presented this at Resurrection on November 5, 2006 (All Saintsí Sunday).

 

Dear Saints of God,

 

This is the Sunday in our church calendar that we set aside every year to remember with reverence the saints who have entered life eternal.For the first time at Resurrection we are lighting candles and floating them in water to help us remember.Let me assure you that we are doing it this way today for reasons beyond fire safety!

 

Letís lower the house lights so that the glow of the candles will be more pronounced.You see before us, the lighted Christ Candle, the baptismal shell, the lit tea candles floating in bowls of waterÖ

 

In the Book of the Revelation, we read of the vision that God gave St. John concerning what happens on the other side of death.John writes that he was allowed to see the holy city, the New Jerusalem, coming down from heaven. This new and glorious city has been prepared by God as a place of eternal peace and joy.The best part about this new city, which is really heaven, is that God is with them.People sometimes wonder about special rewards in heaven.Johnís Revelation shows us that the best reward is this: we will be in Godís presence eternally.

 

John also saw water in heaven.He said that in heaven there is a great street running the length of the city.Down the middle of that street flows the river of the water of life.It begins at the throne of God and the Lamb (Jesus) and flows down the middle of the great street so that it is available to all the inhabitants of heaven.

 

John tells us that there is no night in heaven,no darkness.For the Lord himself provides light to all the inhabitants of heaven.†† So our candles floating in water today do have a tie to Johnís vision of heaven.We trust that our loved ones, the saints who have gone before us, are even now being fed by the water from the river of life and are all lit up in the presence of the Lord.

 

Todayís gospel story about the raising of Lazarus gives us a glimpse into the heart of God and how he feels about death.The gospel writer John tells us that Jesus was at a distance from the home of Lazarus and Martha and Mary, when he learned of Lazarusí approaching death.Jesus delayed his return and when he arrived Lazarus was dead and buried.†† The family and friends were in mourning, crying and wailing.And Jesus did something.We learn about it in the shortest verse in the entire Bible, John 11:35.Jesus wept (Jesus began to weep).At first you might think he is crying for Lazarus.If you read closer, you begin to understand that he is sorrowing for those who are hurt so much by death and the pain it inflicts on loved ones.So Jesus does do a miracle, he raises Lazarus.He does not resurrect him.Lazarus was brought back to life on this occasion but later he would die again, as will all of us.His resurrection takes place when he passes through the gate of death and enters heaven to be with God.

 

The raising of Lazarus was a sign of who Jesus really is.John tells us that many came to faith.But something else also occurred.The Jewish leaders were incensed that he had this power.This was the last straw for them.This is what caused them to seek his death.

 

It seems especially appropriate that on All Saints Sunday, we have the baptismal shell here in front for all of us to see.It makes a statement.It declares that in our baptism we are joined to the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.The water symbolizes our being washed clean in the blood of the Lamb.When Jesus burst the bonds of death, he assured us that he will provide a resurrection for us and all believers.

 

The last visual I have for us today is this handkerchief.When Jesus wept at time of Lazarusí death, he was displaying a side of God that we need to understand.When we hurt, God hurts.Our pain is his pain.God wants to do everything possible to take away our pain.

 

Eight hundred years before Jesus, the prophet Isaiah declared these words of the Lord, ďhe will swallow up death forever.Then the Lord will wipe away the tears from all facesÖĒ (Isaiah 25:8a)

 

This picture becomes very personal in Johnís Revelation.This is really special.God himself is the one who is taking his own handkerchief in effect and daubing away our tears.Up in heaven he isnít assigning that task to others.He then presents the news that there is no more death.

 

I conclude with this image that Pastor Carol suggested to me.In this life God provides handkerchiefs to each and every one of us in the form of saints.Saints in this life (and that includes all of us here) are Godís handkerchiefs, sent to be Godís way of bringing comfort to us in our sorrows, a way God is reminding us how much he loves us.

 

Thanks be to God.

 

Amen.