Posted by: skokiecentralchurch | November 1, 2015

2015.11.01 “All Saints: The Day We Love and Hate” – Isaiah 25: 6 – 9; John 11: 29 – 44

Central United Methodist Church
All Saints: The Day We Love and Hate
Pastor David L. Haley
Isaiah 25: 6 – 9; John 11: 29 – 44
All Saints Sunday
November 1st, 2015

All Saints Sunday

When Mary came where Jesus was and saw him, she knelt at his feet and said to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved. He said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” Jesus began to weep. So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?”

Then Jesus, again greatly disturbed, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone was lying against it. Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, “Lord, already there is a stench because he has been dead four days.” Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?” So they took away the stone. And Jesus looked upward and said, “Father, I thank you for having heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I have said this for the sake of the crowd standing here, so that they may believe that you sent me.” When he had said this, he cried with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.” John 11: 29 – 44, the New Revised Standard Version

We have come again to this weekend we love and hate, the celebration of All Saints preceded by Halloween, which for the second year in a row was rained out. Now that it has also become the weekend when we change our clocks back from Daylight Savings Time, and thus experience our first weekend of early darkness, we have reason to dislike this weekend even more. After this weekend – as they say on “Game on Thrones” – now we know for sure that “winter is coming.” Ugh!

As if it isn’t dark enough, this weekend of Halloween and All Saints is also a weekend when we struggle with the reality of death, and remember those we have loved and lost. Because of this – more than any other reason – we may both love and hate All Saints, because while we fondly remember those we have loved and lost to death, we also mourn their absence, and remember our own grief and loss. This weekend, even the weather seemed to reinforce this, with the clouds, the rain, and the darkness.

On Friday morning, I went up to talk to 21 new firefighters at NIPSTA (Northeastern Illinois Public Safety Training Academy) in Glenview, about “Stress and Support in the Fire Service.” What I was talking about was what it is going to do to them to go out and deal with death and mutilation on a regular basis, which firefighters do second only to combat veterans. But also, what they can do to keep such mentally and emotionally scarring experiences from ruining their relationships, their careers, and even their lives.

I found that as I prepared for it, I myself got more disturbed, as I remembered incidents and fatalities I experienced when I did that job, including children and teenagers. Once one experiences those things, you never forget; the memories never go away;

All Saints Day may do the same for some of us. While for the most part most of us will remember names and faces and joyful experiences, some of us will also remember forget painful experiences, of receiving bad news and visits to the emergency room or hospital, and experiences of suffering and sickness, before death arrived for our loved one, in some cases mercifully. So while All Saints Day may bring happy memories to some, it may bring sad memories to others. And even if that is not the case, we still feel the absence of our loved ones in our lives.

lazarusAs if to mirror reality, the Gospel reading for today offers for our reflection and encouragement a story from the life of Jesus which portrays not only the reality of death, and our grief and loss in death’s wake, but also our hope. It is the cherished story of Jesus’ raising of Lazarus from the dead in the Gospel of John, as portrayed here by the 14th century Italian Painter Duccio di Buoninsegna.

While set in another culture, time, and place, there is much that is familiar; from the moment it is announced to Jesus that  “Lazarus – whom you loved – has died,” it is not difficult to see ourselves in this story. There are grieving people, Martha and Mary his sisters, and tear-stained faces, including that of Jesus. There are accusations and regrets (“Master, if only you had been here, he would not have died.”) There is questioning of the love and power and justice of God in life (“Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?”), just as – when someone we love dies, especially prematurely – we too may question the love and power and justice of God. Also portrayed in the story is the ugly reality of death (“Master, he stinks.”) The 17th century English author Thomas Browne once said: “I am not so much afraid of death, as ashamed thereof; ’tis the very disgrace and ignominy of our natures, that in a moment can so disfigure us that our nearest friends, wife, and children stand afraid and start at us.” (Religio Medici, 1642)

But in addition to all these familiar things, common to humanity in every age, there is the uncommon promise of hope.  Before Jesus says to Lazarus, “Come forth,” what he says to the weeping Martha and Mary he says to all of us: “I am the Resurrection and the Life: whoever believes in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?”

As the late Fred Craddock once noted: “The church clings to these words like few other sayings of Jesus. The scene of Jesus with two grieving sisters, weeping at the grave of their brother and his friend, has offered comfort and hope unmatched by any other resource, biblical or otherwise. Most Christian funerals allude to these words or this scene.” (Fred B. Craddock, “A Twofold Death and Resurrection,” The Christian Century, March 21-28, p. 299.)

“Do you believe this?” Indeed, we cling to it, and to its promise of comfort and hope, not only for ourselves, but for those we have loved and lost.

Upon the death of his mother, the late Henri Nouwen wrote a book, called The Greatest Gift: A Meditation on Dying and Caring.  In that book Nouwen said:

“When we reach beyond our fears to the One who loves us with a love that was there before we were born and will be there after we die, then oppression, persecution, and even death will be unable to take our freedom. Once we have come to the deep inner knowledge – a knowledge more of the heart than the mind – that we are born out of love and will die into love, that every part of our being is deeply rooted in love, and that this love is our true Father and Mother, then all forms of evil, illness, and death lose their final power over us. (Henri Nouwen, Our Greatest Gift: A Meditation on Dying and Caring, p. 17)

(RNS1-may22) Phyllis Tickle is a southern born and bred, mother of seven and a doyenne of religion writers. She is now 81, and a widow living on a small farm in Lucy, Tennessee just outside of Memphis. The land where her cows once roamed, stray dogs she has adopted and some family surround her. She is being treated for Stage IV cancer. For use with RNS-PHYLISS-TICKLE, transmitted on May 22, 2015, Religion News Service photo by Karen Pulfer Focht.

The late scholar of religion and author Phyllis Tickle, who died in September at the age of 81, after being diagnosed with cancer in the spring, spoke of this freedom from fear of death as real. When she was young, she experienced a near death experience. “You’re never afraid of death after that,” Tickle says of her long-ago taste of mortality. “I’m sorry. You could work at it but you’d just never be afraid of it.”

So each All Saints day becomes a day to love and hate; a day to remember those who have gone before, a day to remind us how much we miss them, but also a day to remember that nothing or no one committed into God’s keeping can ever be lost.

It’s like this: each fall, all the trees display colors, some more than others; I appreciate each and every one. However, in our previous house, just at the bottom of our driveway, there was one particular Maple tree that displayed such brilliant colors year-by-year, that inevitably I would get out my camera to take pictures of it. Until one year, due to the reconstruction of the street, the tree was cut down, such its color now blazes only in my memory.

The people in our lives, especially those who were are saints to us, are like that. Each had their own distinct colors; some of them, indeed, blazed in life. We miss them, and on All Saints we remember them. Now, our task in life is not to display the colors they displayed, but to blaze with the colors God has given us. May God grant that we may so do, until that All Saints Day when our name will be read.  Amen.

Eternal God, we praise you for the great company of those who have finished their course in faith and now rest from their labors. We praise you for those dear to us whom we name in our hearts before you. Especially we praise you for ____, whom you have graciously received into your presence. To all of these, grant your peace. Let perpetual light shine upon them; and help us so to believe where we have not seen, that your presence may lead us through our years, and bring us at last with them into the joy of your home not made with hands but eternal in the heavens; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

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