First Congregational Church
November 1, 2015
All Saints Sunday, 23rd Sunday after Pentecost
“Saints and Souls”
Rev. Dinah Haag, preaching
Lost on a rainy Friday night, a pastor stumbles into a monastery and requests shelter there. Fortunately, she's just in time for dinner and was treated to the best fish and chips she's ever had. After dinner, she goes into the kitchen to thank the chefs. She is met by two brothers, "Hello, I'm Brother Michael, and this is Brother Francis." "I'm very pleased to meet you. I just wanted to thank you for a wonderful dinner. The fish and chips were the best I've ever tasted. Out of curiosity, who cooked what?" Brother Michael replied, "Well, I'm the fish friar." She turns to the other brother and says, "Then you must be…." "Yes, I'm afraid I'm the chip monk..."
When we get to this particular Sunday, or we think about saints, I wonder how many of us think about the Russian and Greek icons that depict the adult Jesus, or his mother, Mary. For us protestants, we might recognize some of the names: St. Paul - the man - not the city - St. Matthew, Mark and Luke - as writers of the gospels, St. Francis, St. Nicholas, St. Patrick, maybe even St. Benedict. Apparently another miracle needs to be credited to Mother Theresa before she continues on her path to sainthood.
For myself, when I think about saints, I can’t help but think about the little Catholic ladies - and one man, as I recall, in the nursing homes where I worked, and the scapulars they wore. The scapulars I came across were little pictures of a saint on one side, and a prayer on the other side, laminated in plastic - so they wouldn’t get wet when bathing - and tied around the neck with a long shoe string. The micro researching I did on scapulars revealed a huge assortment of sizes and ways of wearing the specific colors of brown, red, black, blue, white and green.
While the whole idea of saints, as it specifically relates to Orthodox and Catholic churches, is quite distant for some Protestants, here we are, on All Saints Sunday, and with this scripture passage from John.
32 When Mary reached the place where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet and said, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” 33 When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled. 34 “Where have you laid him?” he asked. “Come and see, Lord,” they replied. 35 Jesus wept. 36 Then the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” 37 But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?”
Jesus Raises Lazarus From the Dead
38 Jesus, once more deeply moved, came to the tomb. It was a cave with a stone laid across the entrance. 39 “Take away the stone,” he said. “But, Lord,” said Martha, the sister of the dead man, “by this time there is a bad odor, for he has been there four days.” 40 Then Jesus said, “Did I not tell you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?”
41 So they took away the stone. Then Jesus looked up and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. 42 I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me.” 43 When he had said this, Jesus called in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” 44 The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face. Jesus said to them, “Take off the grave clothes and let him go.”
Thank you, Judy. It's the ending we all hope for, isn't it? Whether a person has been buried in the ground or returned to ashes, sometimes it would be wonderful to see that particular loved one walk back into our lives - regardless of whether it is four days, four months or four years - full of breath and color restored.
Sometimes I wonder about this passage - for this day - wondering if it’s too much emotion or too much whimsy. Could it even be harmful? But then there is Jesus, chocking up when his best friend’s sister comes with news of his death, and then Jesus openly weeping at his own pain. If grieving were such a bad thing, I don’t think Jesus would have done it himself. So he shows us, by his actions, and by being real, that grieving is part of being human.
Having been raised up once, Lazarus surely didn’t live forever. There is no known Biblical reference to a second death of Lazarus after being resurrected from the grave, but the Roman Catholic tradition has it that he was the first Bishop of Marseilles, while the Greek church says that his body was buried in Constantinople. If he had not died a second time, we surely would have heard about that.
We could speculate about this passage ’til the cows come home, but where is the hope? And the Good News? Especially for those who are still grieving? And what about those who are celebrating new life this day?
Part of the answer comes not in the scripture passage, but in church tradition, which made great distinctions between All Hallow’s Eve, All Saints and All Souls days. Hallowe’en is a contraction for All Hallows’ Evening - was an evening vigil before All Saints Day, beginning at sunset; vigil being a period of keeping awake during the time usually spent asleep, especially to keep watch or pray. All Saints Day would be the day to celebrate the holy people that have gone before us and how we should live as saints now and how we intend to pass on the faith to future generations of believers. All Souls Day, on the other hand, is a day set aside exclusively for commemorating the faithfully departed, particularly one’s relatives and friends. When they wrap up the whole three days, they called it Allhallowtide - all one word.
Lutheran pastor Janet Hunt tells about having the occasional, ordinary snapshot dream about her father, and one in particular. She is sitting at her computer and hears her father come into the room, walks over to her, laughing, and leans down, pressing his face against hers. She remembers that his face was cold as though he'd been outside working and had just come inside. She woke up a few moments later feeling that cold on her cheek, and it wasn't long before she realized that what she felt was probably the cool October breeze coming through the open window. But in those first waking moments, she couldn't be sure, not really. If nothing else, it was a good reminder of her father, where he now resides, and of the hope that she has in one day reuniting with him.
The scripture passage today has a lot of heaviness about it, maybe even some sadness, because in the end, all those we love will die. And so will we. But then there is the last sentence of our passage: “Take off the grave clothes and let him go.” It would be just as apropos: “Take off the grave clothes and let her go.” Go where? Into the future. Into eternity, into the life of hopeful expectation that one day there will be even more joy and surprise and amazement and more - more than what Mary and Martha and Lazarus experienced - for them and for all of us and all we have so loved. And between now and when that hope is realized - perhaps we'll have cool breezes in the night - gifts of God in a way - to remind us of the promise of life and love, safety and joy, wonder and hope.
We can take off the grave clothes of our little ones and let them go, too, into the life that God has for them. Being a child these days is not as easy and carefree as it was when we were children. So we can “let them go,” free of our expectations, to walk into the light that God has for each of them. Maybe that is what we need from some of our little ones that are not so little. Whatever the specific message God has for you in this message and day, we do well by lifting up our circle of life.
God of the past, on this feast of All Saints we remember before you, with thanks,
the lives of those Christians who have gone before us: the great leaders and thinkers,
those who have died for their faith, those whose goodness transformed all they did; Give us grace to follow their example and continue their work. (pause)
God of the present, on this feast of All Saints we remember before you those who have more recently died, giving thanks for their lives and example and for all that they have meant to us. We pray for those who grieve and for all who suffer throughout the world: for the hungry, the sick, the victims of violence and persecution. (necrology)
God of the future, on this feast of All Saints we remember before you the newest generation of your saints, and pray for the future of the church and for all who nurture and encourage faith. (cradle roll)
We give you thanks for the whole company of your saints with whom in fellowship we join our prayers and praises in the name of Jesus Christ, all your people say, Amen
Just the messenger. And the collector and arranger of that which has been received. References available upon request.