By The Very Rev. Sherry Crompton
November 1, 2009 (All Saints Sunday)
Read: John 11:32-44; Revelation 21:1-6a and Isaiah 25:6-9
Most of us know what it’s like to lose someone we care about. And in today’s gospel story we hear about Lazarus, who had died. We hear about tears. There are tears in our reading from Isaiah, there are tears in our reading from Revelation where God wipes away the tears…and there are lots of tears in John’s gospel.
In John’s gospel, Jesus weeps along with Mary and all the gathered mourners before he demonstrates his power over death. As Barbara Crafton writes, “People looking on were shaken, it seems, by Jesus’ display of emotion. Perhaps it made him look weak in their eyes. The Gospel of John is an odd place for this glimpse of a Jesus overcome with sorrow — the rest of the book depicts him striding through the events of his life and death like Superman, so godlike that his humanity doesn’t look much like ours at all. But in the 11th chapter of John, Jesus weeps because his friend has died.
If he was truly human, he was truly mixed. We don’t like our mixed nature — we want people to be good or bad, either strong or weak. We try our best to categorize ourselves and one another, so that we will know always know to proceed. But people aren’t just one thing or another; we’re each a blend of warring strengths and weaknesses. We can be highly intelligent and still do something really stupid. We are both rational and irrational. We are capable of both nobility and moral shabbiness. We may be strong, but sometimes our strength fails us.
When he enters our world, Christ enters our weakness. The Greeks have a fine word for this: ekenosen, literally, “he emptied himself.” He pours out his power. All power comes into this world of no power. Strength chooses to be bound by the weakness that binds us. Why? Why does God choose to live as we live, here where the people you love all die, where you die?”
Barbara continues, “I remember two men I knew years ago when I was on the waterfront. They had known each other from childhood; they were from the same tiny Calabrian town, and they were cabin mates. One was a steward, a head waiter, and the other a wiper in the engine room. Ordinarily, a wiper might be a young person working his way up in the engine department, but this man — shy, silent, developmentally disabled, I always thought — had been a wiper for years and, clearly, would never be anything else.
The cabin they shared was tiny and supremely uncomfortable, and the steward had a chance to take a better one for the rest of his contract. He refused it, though, choosing to stay with his friend. He had promised the man’s mother to take care of him, he explained, and another cabinmate might not understand the vulnerability of his friend — or worse, might understand it all too well and capitalize on it. So he stayed in a hard, narrow bunk in a cabin scarcely bigger than a closet, when he could have had his own cabin.
It was a small thing, I suppose — but a seafarer is on board for months at a time. It’s a hard life, and one pretty low on perks. It would have been nice to have a private space befitting his superior rank. For the sake of love, though, he bound himself with the same chains that bound his friend.
Why is there a Jesus? So God can be with us and we can be with God, even now, and so we can know it. So we can know we’re not alone, no matter what happens. So we can know that we are understood. God not only loves us and our world into being, but then chooses to know our world as we learn to know it: from experience”.
Most of know of Helen Keller, she’s just one of the extraordinary blind women of history. Frazier Hunt writes in a Redbook magazine: “One July afternoon at our ranch in the Canadian Rockies I rode toward Helen Keller’s cabin. Along the wagon trail that ran through a lovely wood we had stretched a wire, to guide Helen when she walked there alone, and as I turned down the trail I saw her coming.
I sat motionless while this woman who was doomed to live forever in a black and silent prison made her way briskly down the path, her face radiant. She stepped out of the woods into a sunlit open space directly in front of me and stopped by a clump of wolf willows. Gathering a handful, she breathed their strange fragrance: her sightless eyes looked up squarely into the sun, and her lips, so magically trained, pronounced the single word “Beautiful!” Then, still smiling, she walked past me.
I brushed the tears from my own inadequate eyes. For to me none of this exquisite highland had seemed beautiful. I had felt only bitter discouragement over the rejection of a piece of writing. I had eyes to see all the wonders of woods, sky and mountains, ears to hear the rushing stream and the song of the wind in the treetops. It took the sightless eyes and sealed ears of this extraordinary woman to show me beauty, and bravery.
Dating back to the third century, the church in all her wisdom has celebrated All Saints Day. This Sunday we honor the tradition as we remember and give thanks for all the beloved baptized in Christ, those among us and those who have gone before us. Today our tender hearts remember loved ones who have died, we will, at communion time have the opportunity to take a carnation and place it on the baptismal font in memory of a loved one.
In our worship we reach out across time to hold hands with Mary and Martha in their encounter with death, and at the same time we grasp the hands of one another as God continues to knit us together in the one beautiful body of Christ Jesus. And what better day than All Saints Day to baptize Evan Michael and Ryan Matthew into the community of faith. Because today, we celebrate those who have gone before us and we also celebrate all of us present here today. We are connected. It’s as if there is a long, long rope filled with knots. All different type of knots. The knots represent each of us as we habitate this earthly realm and as we pass on, the knots unfold and are not as visible; yet, they remain a part of that rope; in communion with us. As our opening hymn this morning states: ‘yet all are one in thee, for all are thine’.
And so with clasped hands, we, like Lazarus and his sisters, are called out from the shadow of death and tears into resurrection life.
Jesus calls us to this tomb to make it clear to us that death has indeed been swallowed up. It is not the end of the road. There is something more…death is the end of one form of existence and the beginning of something new and different. Jesus said, “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end.” It is the Alpha and Omega sign that covers the bottom of our baptismal bowl.
Jesus calls us to the tomb so that we might join him when he says “Unwrap him and let him go.” Out of the shadows, out of the darkness, light shines. In the midst of death is life.
The light shines through in the strangest ways and places. Unbind the death cloths that keep you from living. Open your spiritual eyes. Believe and look around you for the glory of God. Listen and hear Jesus calling your name inviting you to live life with him. Amen.
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