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All Saints Day, November 1, 2015

Geico had a series of commercials out about buying car insurance. They show a situation with people acting like they normally do and then they talk about the normal thing to do to buy car insurance is to call Geico. One of the commercials shows two golf commentators whispering about the players on a particular hole. A sea monster pops out of the lake near where one of the golfers has hit his ball. They calmly comment on it in whispered tones and opine that the player’s choice of club is not the right one to get his ball away from the monster. An announcer says, if you’re a golf commentator you whisper. It’s what you do, and then goes on to speak about Geico.

If you are Jesus, what you do is bring resurrection and life. The story of Lazarus in which God through Jesus brings life foreshadows Jesus’ own death and resurrection in which new life comes again, which in turn foreshadows the end time, in which God and all who have died in the Lord descend in a new heaven and a new earth and dwell with God’s people.

The story of Lazarus doesn’t begin where we start. It begins long before that with Jesus and his disciples in Jerusalem and a message brought that Lazarus, who Jesus loves, is ill; please come and cure him. Mary and Martha believe in Jesus as Messiah and that is John’s criteria for sainthood, for being a kingdom person. But Jesus has other things in mind that a mere healing – if we can ever say Jesus’ healing miracles are mere things. Jesus has in mind something that will really show God’s glory and will point to the fullness of who Jesus is and the promise that he brings. So he waits in Jerusalem until Lazarus dies and then goes to Bethany, where the family lives.

His first encounter is with Martha, who comes out to meet him. She chides Jesus a bit – you had time to get here before Lazarus died and you didn’t do it; why is that? But Martha is strong in her faith in Jesus. She believes that anything Jesus asks God for that accords with God’s will, Jesus can have. Jesus promises resurrection and new life, which Martha takes to mean the resurrection at the last day – better than nothing, but not a very comforting thought in the midst of losing a loved one. She wants him back now. She will wait for the end time, but she would have preferred the alternative.

Jesus makes his strongest “I am” statement. I am resurrection and I am life”. Then he gives a promise that those who believe in him even if they die will live and everyone who lives and believes in him will never die. He asks Martha if she believes and she does, confessing him as the Messiah who is coming into the world. Well, Jesus is already here and new life is possible because God dwells among mortals. In quick succession, Jesus meets Mary, who has the same complaint about her brother’s healing, and sees the Jews who are mourning with them. Jesus knows what he is going to do, but he weeps at the awful power of death and the terrible sense of loss that everyone feels. What anguish these people had to go through for him to show God’s great glory.

Now Jesus is ready for the sign, the radical promise of God’s new life given through Christ, the resurrection and the life. He begins to undo death. First, take away the stone. But practical Martha, still caught up in death, says it will smell awful because Lazarus has been dead four days. It doesn’t matter, says Jesus. Do it anyway, and they do. Jesus reminds Martha in the meantime he had promised that if she believed she would see God’s glory. And she does. Jesus calls Lazarus to come out and he stumbles out of the cave. Jesus tells them to unbind him from the grave cloths and let him go. Jesus has liberated Lazarus from the bonds of death. He has liberated the others from grieving and mourning. He has shown that he is resurrection and he is life – that the dead will live, that the old is being made new through God’s creative power. Lazarus will die again, but the important thing is that Jesus gives the promise, the promise of resurrection and new life in God.

In John, this is the event that precedes Jesus’ death. This is when the authorities decide to kill him because he is getting too popular. So once again, Jesus participates in compassion with the suffering of the world, this time offering himself up to save the world. And God’s raising of Jesus means that Jesus’ promise is one step closer to fulfillment. Jesus has been raised from the dead, never to die again. God has made the promise of eternal life with God a reality. Everyone still has to go through death as Jesus did, but life in the kingdom can be lived out now by following Jesus’ teachings and telling others about the promised world without end to come.

In Revelation, we see the promise fulfilled. God is the source of creation and its purpose for being. God’s first creation has passed away, including the sea, which in that time was an image of chaos and evil. God is in control, and the New Jerusalem comes down from heaven. And just as Jesus dwelt with mortals for a short time, God now dwells with mortals forever. It is not just the Jews that are mentioned; but God’s peoples – God’s beloved from every race and nation. The ultimate resurrection and life takes place. There is no more mourning because there is no more death. God’s living with mortals creates endless life in beloved community with one another and with God. Resurrection and life make all things new. This blessed community of saints is one with each other and one with God.

On All Saints Day, we remember the whole community of people who have received eternal life for believing that Christ is the resurrection and the life. We remember the martyrs who gave their lives for their faith, those who were persecuted (and for whom John was writing Revelation), people who showed exceptional faith and did miracles, like St. Francis of Assisi, and ordinary people like Mary and Martha, who knew Jesus was resurrection and life because they saw their brother raised from the dead. We remember our friends and family who have died in faith and we can also count ourselves because we become part of the Communion of Saints when we are baptized. Just as God comes in Revelation to make God’s home among mortals, the saints are all inhabitants of the New Jerusalem and make their home with us too. They surround us and pray with us and for us and we pray for them that they may grow in Christ’s love and service.

God has said that God will live with God’s peoples, and we believe God is an inclusive God. The Washington Post featured a story about two doctors, one a Jew and one a Muslim, who are spending their time patching up those who are injured in the Arab-Israeli fighting. Ahmed Eid and Elchanan Fried don’t ask the religion of those they are treating or worry about whether they were attacker or victim. Their job is to save lives and they do. They are living saints for the work they do in difficult circumstances. We can be living saints too. Our baptism makes it possible and carrying out our baptismal vows is the way we show how grateful we are to God for incorporating us into God’s family and for giving us new life – eternal life which can begin on this earth and continue after death.

Jesus is resurrection and Jesus is life. That’s what he does. He points to God and God’s promise for a life where there will be no more sadness or grief or crying, no more separation from loved ones. This All Saints Day, remember that we are surrounded and lifted up by a great cloud of witnesses to the new thing God has done in dwelling with mortals and the new thing God will do when God’s purpose is fulfilled. Give thanks for your own sainthood and join those who have gone before in pointing to God and God’s promises for all humankind. People need to hear those promises and we need to tell them.

AMEN.

     - Rev Ann Barker