All Saints Day, 2018

 

“Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man

have kept this man from dying?”

 It is a question that has been asked through tears many times over. It is a question that aches for the why of death, especially when it is sudden or comes at a time that we feel is too soon because we are not ready—or because the person is young. Why did this happen? Could you not have healed our loved one, God, instead of taking them from us? It is a question without an answer. But we are asking because we want to hang on to the life of our loved one, as though earthly life matters more than the life beyond—even though we know better.

We identify with Mary when she says to Jesus, “Lord if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” This speaks of Mary’s faith, but it also hints of anger and disappointment. How many times have we thought; “if only this or that would have happened, maybe he or she would have still been alive.

In the story of Lazarus, Jesus delayed on purpose. He intentionally did not come when Mary and Martha sent word to Him about the illness of His friend and their brother. Jesus knew it would mean that Lazarus would die, but without the death, the resurrection of Lazarus—the  miracle of new life, could not happen. So He waited.

When Jesus finally arrived on the scene, Lazarus was dead and the funeral was over and deep mourning had taken hold. Jesus was not immune to the sadness. He cried. He went to the tomb in great sorrow. He then ordered the stone to be taken away even though as Martha warned, there would be a strong smell coming from the tomb. But that was not important and Jesus called in a loud voice—“Lazarus, come out!” And the man emerged wrapped in burial cloths, looking like a mummy—yet full of life! And the power of God through Jesus won the battle between death and life and between despair and hope. Jesus won. He won for Lazarus, He won for Mary and Martha and He won for you and me. Death does not have the final word—there is life beyond death. We need to see Jesus right there in the picture, larger than death, more powerful than death, coming to raise us. That’s how we come to believe.

“Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man

have kept this man from dying?”

Oh yes, He could have, but He had a larger truth to tell. Not only is Jesus able to heal, He can and will give life to the dead. With Lazarus, it was in this world. With most of us it will be in the next. This event took place so Jesus could assure Mary, Martha, Lazarus, the crowd and all of us that He—Jesus—is the life giver.

And there is another parallel here. We realize that resurrection for us will most likely be after our life on earth, but Jesus has the ability to grant a different kind of “coming back to life” right here and right now when a person accepts Jesus as their Lord and Savior. That is also a kind of a resurrection—a spiritual coming to life in Jesus that causes us to live in a very different way than we used to.

There are millions and millions of stories about how this has happened to people. You have your story. Every Christian has their own story of how they have come to believe. Sometimes it comes through healing prayers, sometimes a friend will share their faith with someone and it often happens when someone is in some kind of trouble and our Lord answers their prayers. We even hear stories of murderers coming to Christ while waiting for their execution because they have been ministered to and prayed for and God has blessed them with His peace.

The Bible says that God does not desire the death of a sinner, but rather that he turn from his ways and live. This turning is last week’s word from the Presiding Bishop. It is this turning from our old ways, that becomes a resurrection into a new life. It is not always dramatic. Many times it takes place without even being noticed by others except that the person seems to be more alive, happier and more sensitive to the needs of others.

There are men and women past and present who sometimes face danger, torture or execution and many also who lived long blessed lives working fervently for the sake of the gospel. All are saints and their experiences with our Lord are so amazing that they risk everything to be a part of Christ’s mission in the world.

Now, when you think of saints, don’t look for perfection. No saint has ever been perfect—not one. Saints come to faith with all their warts intact and leave this world the same way—with one added dimension: They have been able to somehow leave this world with a remnant of their faith left behind for others to explore and to remember them by.

Fr. Frederick Waldo Barker was a saint of this Church. William Bradley was a saint of St. Barnabas in Tomahawk. My Aunt Ruth, who taught Sunday school for 30 years and who gave me a book when I was 10 called “Lady on a Donkey”. That book greatly contributed to my belief in prayer. She was a saint for me. Saints are all around us. If we think about it we can all recognize saints in our own lives. And, maybe God has given us the opportunity to be a saint in someone else’s life! I hope so. We too can dare everything for the sake of this one true thing—that Jesus is life and resurrection here on this earth and in His kingdom beyond. All believers are saints—men, women and children—and we all have the ability to leave something of our faith for others to remember and to be encouraged by.

Today we celebrate All Saints day. The Saints of God have truly found resurrection in Christ and the reality of life eternal. The commemoration of All Saints is meant to unite us in spirit to the whole “communion of saints” as we call it in our creed, and to which we belong with those who have gone before us and have dared everything for the sake of this one true thing—that Jesus died on the cross for us that they and we might have eternal life because of it.                               Amen.

 

 The day right after All Saints Day is All Souls Day when we think about and celebrate the lives of our family and friends who have gone before us. So today when you come to communion, remember those people and if you wish, remain kneeling here a bit longer and speak their names out loud or in your heart while you thank them for the ways they helped your faith in Christ.