Grace to you and peace from our Lord and savior, the Comforter, Provider and Sustainer. Amen.
The veil between the living and dead is a thin space this weekend as we gather for All Saints worship. We remember our beloved (and often complicated) dead. I say complicated because our loved ones didn’t always get it right, just like us. We count them as saints not because they were perfect but because God calls them holy. Today, we live out the theology of the Communion of Saints-that the dead are with us as we gather and sing, pray and break bread.
And, when we think about the departed, I admit to a little bit of envy. If they are living out the incredible visions in our first two readings. The incredible banquet feast in a place of peace. To be at a time when God dwells with us and feels so present, so tangible. A time when weeping and mourning and pain are no more. That is now for them, and for us, it is not yet. Though, we get a taste of it.
Grief and sorrow are part of our life. And, death and grief hit us differently at different times in our lives, or with the death of different people. Do you remember the first death that affected you? For some, in death, there is a response of gratitude, a release from suffering. For others - outrage and anger. A sudden or unexpected death can feel like a gut punch, like the wind was knocked out of you.
In the gospel, we have this range of emotions. Mary's anger and lament: Lord - where were you?! Why?! Mary weeping. And Martha is also grieving - and - she’s realistic and pragmatic - “um, Jesus, the cave already smells.” Do you know anyone who reacts that way?
And, we see Jesus’ love and compassion here, his grief. He begins to weep when he feels compassion for those around him. We also have the shortest verse in the Bible here in John 11:35 - two words in the Greek. The King James Version translated it as “Jesus wept.” Our NRSV translation is “Jesus began to weep” which I think is the better translation to reflect that the verb is ongoing - Jesus continued weeping as he walked to Lazarus' tomb. Even though he knew what he planned to do, he wept.
The people we weep for - they’re not gone from us. Wherever you are on that journey today, whether it is raw grief or grief has become a familiar companion, or feeling relief or release, we are found in the biblical promises and stories; and we are found by God. If you are feeling disconnected and cut off, maybe Lazarus in the tomb resonates with you more today and you need to hear “Come out and Live! You're not dead yet.”
One of the gifts of our Christian faith is that we speak of God as Parent - as Father and Mother. This helps us remember that God knows what it is to be a parent. And God the Parent experienced the death of their child. Jesus was God, fully, somehow, and Jesus died. Thus, God knows death. God knows the pain of a parents' heart at the untimely death of their child. And, God knows the grief of losing a beloved friend to death. For Jesus, it was not just Lazarus - we also have John the Baptist, Jesus’ cousin, beheaded by the governor, and probably others. Maybe Jesus in this moment was experiencing compounding grief, when we’ve lost person upon person. In that moment, what a gift to remember that we know a God who weeps.
And we know a God who wipes away our tears. Who promises a way forward out of sorrow. Who, in Christ, went to the place of the dead and led them out to eternal life - to that heavenly banquet table with the Lord. Triumph over death! To life! This abundant life is for us, right now. Jesus’ invitation to - Come out! Live! Thanks be to God. Amen.
Rev. Elizabeth Bier is the pastor of ONE in Christ Parish, a three-point parish in Greenwood, Longwood, and Withee. She is ordained with the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA) and has served the ONE in Christ Parish since February of 2019.Profile
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