November 1, 2009
Immanuel Presbyterian Church
All Saints Day
and the Raising of Lazarus
Good morning. You might have gathered from participating in the liturgy thus far that it is All Saints Day, the day we here at Immanuel remember and honor our loved ones and church members who have gone before us. It is a day where we are reminded that for us, the Communion of the Saints, includes all believers and seekers – those who have gone before us, those who are with us today, and those who will join us around the table in days yet to come.
I like to believe that the Communion of the Saints is in the here and now, as well as the by and by. When Jesus joins us around the Table, I see not why the company of saints cannot join us, as well.
The Old Testament lesson this morning from the Book of Isaiah speaks of God preparing a feast of rich food and wine for all people. All were invited. It’s up to us whether or not we accept the invitation. I was intrigued with the reference to the shroud enfolding the people, a funeral sheet covering all nations, and wondered what that might mean. Things were obviously not in a celebratory state. But Isaiah assures the people that in time, the Lord will swallow up death forever, wipe away their tears, and remove whatever disgrace they found themselves in. It’s a promise offered for us, as well.
All Saints Day – and its sister observance, All Souls Day tomorrow – is about death and honoring the departed. We observe the day by honoring our spiritual forefathers and foremothers who have deeply impacted our faith and daily lives. In the Catholic tradition, saints are those who have been officially recognized by the Church for their piety. A prayer delivered to God, through a saint’s intercession on our behalf, was more likely to be looked upon favorably by God. In our tradition, the term “saint” is more inclusive – it encompasses all of us, the whole company of the Elect, if you will. We don’t ask that departed saints pray on our behalf, but we do, or should, look to them for guidance.
I like to envision the Cloud of Saints or Cloud of Witnesses during this particular weekend of the year, believing that we are drawn just a little closer to one another when we do. It’s a time of thanksgiving and joy for those who preceded us in faith, and a sense, in time, we will join them.
All Saints Day is for honoring our dead, for sure; but I believe it can also be about renewal, second chances, and on-going life. Today we don’t worry too much about people in the Protestant church praying to saints. But we can worry about a church or a people who are lacking in understanding of our spiritual history, who partake in a culture that ignores and looks down on the elderly and wise.
are susceptible to what C. S. Lewis called a “chronological snobbery” that
assumes that history has nothing to teach us. And that might even include our
pre-Christian history, and our pre-Christian ancestors. A version of All Saints
Day was observed in many cultures long before Jesus was born in
There is a need to honor those who have gone before us. In fact, anthropologists tell us that one of the very first things that distinguishes human life is this propensity for remembering the dead.
But the Christian Church had an additional idea. Why not make this a time to celebrate those who were especially worthy of celebration. No need to sit back passively and be haunted by the past, why not take the initiative. Use the season of the dying year to single out those who have gone before us and who are especially worthy of remembrance. Pay tribute to their accomplishments, note their trials and tribulations, celebrate their lives!
At first the church celebrated only the lives of martyrs, those who had actually sacrificed their lives for the church. Then the observance was expanded and became All Saints Day,a time of tribute to those few who deserved that honorific title, saint. Finally, an additional celebration was added. All Soul's Day, observed on November 2nd, is a time of remembrance for departed loved ones, a time of respect for all who have proceeded us.
So, today we can look back and honor our roots and our past. But there is also a component which urges us to look forward.
We are here this morning to honor our loved ones, our spiritual ancestors – the saints who have come into our lives, blessed us, and moved on with the journey ahead of us. But what of us who are left behind, perhaps it is us who are still enfolded in Isaiah’s shroud, living in sadness, purposelessness, or an almost deadening lifelessness? It is my prayer that very few of us in this room exist in this state of being, but my experience in this world tells me that virtually all of us have felt that way for longer or shorter periods in our lives.
I’m not a literalist when he comes to reading Scripture, but I certainly read with an eye and an ear for a message for me.
The story of Lazarus, for instance. Lazarus really isn’t a parable. Most believe that Lazarus was a living human being with a name of his own, and a real friendship with Jesus.
We heard this morning, that Lazarus had been ill – maybe it was a strain of Swine Flu or maybe a deep spiritual malaise. Regardless, he’s very sick and his sisters Mary and Martha are seriously worried and sent for Jesus.
Jesus is late. Four days late. Lazarus is already dead and buried, even wrapped up in a funeral shroud and laid to rest in the darkness of a cave.
Jesus finally arrives, comforts his friends, and eventually goes to the cave. I find it interesting that he doesn’t go inside. He stands outside and shouts in, like a friend might do,
“Lazarus, come out of there! You are alive, even if you don’t know it.” Or words to that effect.
Lazarus hears his Friend, believes Him, and while unwrapping his own burial linen, comes out into the sunshine.
It is a miracle, but it is a miracle that can happen every day.
new beginning, a second chance at life, spiritual renewal. Lazarus was given that gift. And I believe
the gift is for us, as well. When we are immobilized, deep in our own caves, we
must listen, hear our Friend calling, believe what he tells us, and begin to
take the steps necessary to unwrap that which binds us. In doing so, we step on out into renewed
life. I see it as a partnership
there was, indeed, a new life for Lazarus.
After his personal, born-again experience, Lazarus didn’t just hang
tradition suggests that he left for
I mention Lazarus because he definitely had reason to believe life was over for him. He had four whole days to contemplate this reality, before the arrival of his Friend. I offer Lazarus as one of those spiritual ancesetors who can offer us a little wisdom this All Saints Day.
“Hey, we’re alive, whether we always recognize it or not.”
“In partnership with Christ, a friendship with Christ, we can start anew. We can start anew each day.”
We can walk out of this building after lunch and be the exact same person we were when we came in this morning – shrouds and all; or we can walk out of here, hand in hand with our Lord, into a new life.
It’s our choice.