All Saints’ Day, November 1, is a Holy Mashup. It’s got some elements from Easter—the white vestments, the paschal candle and baptism—and it’s got some from the burial office — we remember by name many who’ve gone before, and at my parish have a memorial walk with stops at local cemeteries. It’s a little of both, or maybe they’re all three harbingers of the resurrection. Keep reading for my sermon for this All Saints’ Day.
Based on John 11:32-44 (and a nod to all the readings).
Alleluia! Christ is risen! The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!
It’s a little odd, isn’t it, hearing the refrain we use during Easter? We don’t say it outside those Great Fifty Days, and yet this day sure does look and sound like an Easter service. We have white vestments, and the paschal candle is out and lit. We’re renewing our baptismal covenant, which when said outside the rite of baptism is found in the liturgy for the Easter Vigil. While the hymns today don’t have as many Alleluias as you might find on Easter morning, there are still plenty to be heard.
If you’ve ever looked at the Burial Office in our Book of Common Prayer, you may know that most of the readings we heard this morning are suggested as options for that service too. And, in case your wondering why I’m bringing up the funeral liturgy, let me read this note found on Page 507. “The liturgy for the dead is an Easter liturgy. It finds all its meaning in the resurrection. Because Jesus was raised from the dead, we, too, shall be raised.” Which is why when we gather together for a burial the white hangings are out and the paschal candle is lit (even if it’s Lent). During the Commendation, the priest will declare “All of us go down to the dust; yet even at the grave we make our song: Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.”
Easter, All Saints and the Burial Office all focus on the resurrection. They all focus on the hope we have as Christians.
We didn’t get the first part of the story in our gospel lesson. Mary and Martha had sent a message to Jesus that their brother was gravely ill. When Jesus heard this he declared that the illness wouldn’t lead to death but to God’s glory, and then he stayed put for another two days rather than coming to Bethany. When he finally arrives, he learns that Lazarus has been dead four days already. Martha and then Mary each come to him and say the same thing, “Jesus, if you had been here, my brother wouldn’t have died.”
The first time, to Martha, he replies: “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” “Yes, Lord,” she says, “I believe you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming to the world.” The second time, when Mary asks, Jesus is overcome by the grief he sees in her and that he is feeling himself. He begins to weep.
We heard what happens next. They come to the grave, roll back the stone despite the worries from Martha, and Jesus says a prayer. Finally, the loud cry, “Lazarus, come out!” And he comes waddling out, his hands and feet bound up in the burial cloths, almost comical in nature if not so unfathomable. “Unbind him and let him go,” Jesus commands, and they do that because the next time we hear about Lazarus he’s having a meal with Jesus a few days later. He becomes a saint, by the way, Saint Lazarus of the Four Days as he’s remembered in the Orthodox Church, or just Lazarus in our church calendar when he’s remembered with his sisters on July 29 each year.
Easter, All Saints and the Burial Office. This trifecta in which is intwined resurrection and joy and remembrance and sadness and life.
Disney Pixar’s recent film “Inside Out” explores the inner life of a girl named Riley. We meet her emotions Joy, Anger, Disgust, Fear and Sadness who all seek to control Riley’s moods and thoughts, creating memories for the memory bank which can be replayed later in her life. Joy tries to run everything and encourages Sadness to just get over it and get happy, or if she can’t then she needs to be contained (“repressed” is how some might put it). But it gets hard when Riley moves from Minnesota to San Francisco and the emotions are flying.
At one point in their adventures Joy and Sadness find a memory of a day that happened back in Minnesota. “Oh, it’s that time in the twisty tree,” Joy says, “remember? The hockey team showed up and Mom and Dad were there cheering. Look at her, having fun and laughing. It’s my favorite.” “I love that one, too.” Sadness replies. “Atta girl!” Joy exclaims, “Now you’re getting it!” “Yeah, it was the day [Riley’s hockey team] the Prairie Dogs lost the big playoff game. Riley missed the winning shot. She felt awful. She wanted to quit. Sorry, I went sad again, didn’t I?”
Sometimes memories are like that, the interplay of joy and some sadness too. For me All Saints Day has become one of those. It isn’t all Easter with trumpets and lilies and the darkness of Good Friday has been stripped away. But neither is it a funeral when we gather in tremendous grief to say goodbye to the one we’ve loved, and we have to be reminded by the priest that we’re called to sing Alleluia. All Saints is in-between, it’s a mixture. We remember those who have gone before, we say their names and process to our Memorial Garden. But we also give thanks for the baptism of little Emma, and the gift of new life. We experience both Joy and Sadness. This day’s a little bittersweet.
We also have the stories in the back of our minds too. If I asked you to talk about the saints in your life, the ones who made a significant impact in one way or another but who are no longer with you, you’d quickly reminisce. I remember one time driving with my Dad on our way to breakfast. He met with some of his friends every week at a local diner. As we came to a stop light, I noticed a homeless man standing by the side of the road. My dad rolled down his window and slipped a twenty into the man’s hand, then asked him how he was doing. They chatted back and forth until the light changed and they said goodbye and the window was put back up. I gathered this happened every Thursday the way they spoke to one another.
I remember a parishioner I once had named Dick who by the time I met him used a walker to get around. He was the kind of man who always had a smile no matter what. I learned that he had once been an elite skier and loved competing. He had endured a kidney transplant some twenty years before we met, and during the time I knew him, hoped for another since his body had begun to reject his even though he treated his body well. He endured multiple surgeries on his back too, yet always bounced back. He had created his own PT area at home so he could skip over rehab, and he pushed himself extensively. Dick never gave up and even though he dealt constantly with pain, you’d never know it. He had a tenacity for life, and he persevered through it all for a very long time.
So many saints that we remember on this day. The ones who’ve gone before us and yet surround us still as we gather to worship the living God. Their lives speak to us not about how to live perfectly, but rather how to do the best that we can as imperfect people longing to follow the risen Christ.
We are all saints too, you know. Unexpected, flawed beloved saints who believe most days in the hope given to us through Jesus Christ. I say most days, since there are those days when fear creeps in and takes root and we wonder if the promises of Jesus really will come true. So we believe, perhaps haphazardly, or not as much as we’d like, but we believe all the same. And we remember the ways those who’ve traveled this path before us did it, imperfectly to be sure, but whom we see now more clearly as the precious saints they always were.
And so we hold this tension between the now and the not-yet, between the burial of the dead ad the promise of Easter, and we remember all the saints. Our hope for new life, glimpsed as water trickles down the head of a baby at baptism and in so many other ways, sustains us as we await the day of Christ’s coming, reminding us always that we are loved by Christ just as we are. May we always remember and live into that love. Amen.