All Saints Sunday
Grace and Peace, Bethany Lutheran, from God our Father, The Holy Spirit, and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
Heaven. Sounds. Awesome. Listen again to the words we heard from the prophet Isaiah, “On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines, of rich food filled with marrow, of well-aged wines strained clear.”
What a party! Not only is God going to put out the richest spread of food you’ve ever seen...but the wine! There’s going to be so much wine in heaven that prophet had to mention it twice! Isaiah even assures us that it’s going to be the good stuff! It will be the stuff that you can’t even afford!
And everybody is going to be there. A place was saved for you the day you were baptized. Yes, in your baptisms, the day you were first welcomed into the company of all the saints, this became your party. Those who have gone before us have already taken their seats, and as we celebrate those who have been baptized this past year, we know that a seat is waiting for them as well!
Heaven sounds awesome! What’s even better is that we heard that there will be no more tears. Did you hear that Cubs fans? No more tears! That must mean there’s a World Series Championship for the Cubs in heaven. (Hopefully before then…)
No more tears. We heard it twice in our readings this morning. Isaiah says, “Then the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces.” And from Revelation we heard, “And God himself will be with them; he will wipe every tear from their eyes.”
On All Saints Sunday, as I read these texts today that talk about this new heaven and new earth - this vision God has for the world, where the party food is top notch and the good wine keeps coming - what I see is hope and the expectation that what is coming next is going to be better than any of us could possibly imagine!
Which is why I found our Gospel story so odd today. It’s the story of Lazarus - the brother of Mary and Martha, and a close friend of Jesus. We hear earlier in the chapter that Lazarus had fallen ill, and so Mary sends a messenger to Jesus, telling him to hurry up. Mary knows Jesus can save her brother.
But Jesus is delayed and by the time he arrives, Lazarus had been dead for four days. That’s where we pick up the story today. Lazarus has been wrapped in a shroud, and laid in a tomb to find his final rest. And Jesus arrives on scene too late.
When Mary hears that Jesus has finally arrived, she approaches him, and does exactly what you might expect. In her grief and through her tears, she falls at Jesus feet and cries out to him - almost accuses him - “Lord if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”
Words many of us have said before. God, why did you let them die?
And this is, I think, where the story takes an unexpected turn. Because when we lose loved ones, or when we see our friends lose people they love, our natural reaction is to comfort each other with words like, “He’s in a better place now.” Our natural instinct is to shy away from the raw grief and emotion because we don’t know how else to handle it.
Often the words we share to comfort one another sound more like “Don’t worry...Heaven is awesome. There’s going to be a big party, with all our favorite foods, and only the best wine, which will never run out, and so we don’t have to cry because God will wipe away every tear and everything is going to be okay.” That’s what it says in Isaiah. That’s what it says in Revelation. Right?
Jesus knows this better than anybody and so I expect him to reassure Mary - to tell her that everything is going to be okay, and that Lazarus is in a better place, and that we should be celebrating his life, not mourning his death …
Except that’s not what Jesus says. When Mary fell at Jesus feet, and when he saw her weeping, the story says Jesus “was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved.” And so they bring him to the body of Lazarus, and when he sees his friend lying there in the tomb, Jesus does the last thing we expect him to do.
He wept. I almost want to cry out to him, “Jesus, don’t you know? Don’t you know that every tear will be wiped away? Don’t you know about the feast God has prepared for Lazarus? Don’t you know that it’s all going to be okay? That he’s in a better place? That heaven is awesome? Don’t you know?”
In just a few short verses, we know that Jesus will raise Lazarus from the dead. Why does Jesus weep?
We have a tendency to skip to the end of the story, because the middle of it is often too hard to bear. We know that the saints we have lost have gone on to the feast. We know that they are in a better place. We know that heaven is… in a word...awesome.
But the lie that we tell ourselves, is that because we know this, we don’t need to cry. As if our loss isn’t real. As if our grief is misplaced. As if our tears are wasted.
And yet, Jesus wept. Even knowing of the resurrection, even knowing that he would raise Lazarus, he allowed himself to grieve the loss of his friend.
Brothers and sisters in Christ, that is the character of God, whom you have come to worship today. God mourns with you and Jesus weeps with you as the Spirit wraps loving arms around you because our loss is real, because we should grieve for those we’ve lost, and because our tears are a testament to how much our loved ones are missed.
Even though we know that through the baptismal waters of grace, God will one day wipe away all tears, God still gives us the space to remember and to miss the people whom we have lost.
On All Saints Day, that is what we do.
And so may the memories or your saints honor their lives. May the celebration of the newly baptized bring you hope. And may God bring you all peace and comfort.
Thanks be to God. Amen.