CAMINANDO WITH JESUS: All Saints' Day
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 11:32-44
All Saints is one of my favorite holidays of the year. Each fall, we have this time to celebrate the communion of saints in heaven and on earth. We give thanks for all the saints known and unknown who have given us examples of faithful living and faithful dying. It's wonderful to think of the many saints who come to mind and are known far and wide: the Blessed Virgin Mary, Paul, Peter, Mary Magdalene, Francis of Assisi, Benedict, Teresa and many more who you can add to this list! This time of All Saints also gives us time to remember those who we love who have died: a grandparent, a parent, a spouse, a brother or a sister, a friend. You probably are already remembering the name or face of a loved one who has entered the heavenly rest just as you read these words.
It's perhaps fitting on All Saints, as we celebrate the saints and remember those who have died, to read today's Gospel from John 11:32-44. There is confusion and hope, death and life, grieving and rejoicing.
Mary of Bethany's words have always seemed a mix of anger, frustration and grief. Her brother has died, and, upon seeing Jesus, she unleashes at Jesus, "Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. "She knows Jesus can miraculously heal people, and she cannot comprehend why he would delay coming to heal his friend, her brother, Lazarus. Jesus has gained great fame by healing people he did not know, so why not heal his friend? Mary cannot understand.
The scene becomes very emotional with the people weeping, Mary weeping, and even Jesus beginning to weep. People in the crowd are discussing Jesus and wondering why he had not come sooner and why he had not healed Lazarus. In the midst of all of this sobbing, Jesus prays aloud to the Father, "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." He then orders Lazarus to come out of the tomb and tells the mourners, "Unbind him, and let him go."
You can imagine the rejoicing and hope emerging from the confusion and chaos of this scene. Lazarus is raised. Mary and Martha are reunited with their brother. It's easy to become focused only on Lazarus being raised. It's a miraculous story that brings hope and life from sorrow and death. The raising of Lazarus from the dead is not the point of this story in the Gospel.
Jesus raising Lazarus shows he is the master of life and death. Jesus heals the sick and restores health and wholeness in life, and now he raises the dead, showing his command of even death itself. Remembering Jesus as master of life and death is fitting for this time of All Saints, as we remember the communion of saints, both the living and the dead.
However, Lazarus was raised and restored to mortal life. Lazarus would die an earthly death again. Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead draws the ire and anger of the chief priests and Pharisees because the people are being drawn to Jesus and away from them and their authority. The conflict takes Jesus to the cross and death. It is then, in another time of confusion and chaos at Jesus' death, that the raising of the dead brings hope and life.
Lazarus' resurrection raised one person, reunited a brother and his sisters, and showed Jesus as master of life and death to a few people. In his own resurrection, Jesus gives life and immortality to all. Like Lazarus' sisters, we may sorrow at the death of those whom we love. We are also able to give thanks and rejoice that we will be reunited with those whom we love but see no more in the life of the world to come. Today, we celebrate and give thanks for this life in Christ that gives us the joy and comfort of the communion of saints where death and sorrow give way to eternal life for all the saints.
The Rev. Joseph "Sonny" Browne is the rector of All Saints', Roanoke Rapids.
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