All Saints’ Day is the Day that the Church commemorates the saints of Church History, who died living a faithful Christian life. We remember notable saints, like St. Margaret of Antioch. But we also remember all the saints, who by virtue of their baptism die into the sacred communion of all saints. On this day, we remember those whose lives inspire us; and we remember those saints to us – our friends and family – who have died an earthly death. And the way the Church celebrates those deaths is no different than the way we celebrate any funeral – by focusing on resurrection. In our gospel lesson today, we see resurrection most clearly in the raising of Lazarus, who was dead for four days, and who is raised by Jesus to new life.
Now, I do not know about you, but after the week we have had, the last thing I feel like celebrating is resurrection. We have seen actual death, as Hurricane Sandy and the aftermath have killed many and destroyed homes and livelihoods. We have had our own neighborhoods plunged into suffering and destruction. And many of us have suffered in various ways – with no heat, no hot water, no electricity, and no gasoline. Sure, things could be worse for us, but they are not great. There is a certain point at which we know we should be saying, “It could be worse.” But honestly, “it” feels pretty bad. And the slow progress on recovery and the horror stories of places like the shores and Staten Island make us feel worse.
So now, the Church wants us to focus on resurrection? Trust me, I have been resisting pondering resurrection all week. I even considered switching the lessons to the normal propers instead of the All Saints’ Day propers. But I figured, although the lectionary is not divinely ordered, when I stick to the lectionary, God always moves in us for good. So I starting thinking about all those who have died this year – those saints we celebrate today. I thought of those who have died in this storm. I thought of Miriam and Dick Gow. I thought of what we say at every Christian burial – that life is changed not ended; that Jesus is the resurrection and the life; that we celebrate eternal life, not mourn earthly death.
With those saints in mind, I returned to our gospel lesson. Two things gave me hope. First: Jesus weeps. Our gospel lesson tells us that Jesus is angry about Lazarus’ death. The text says that Jesus was “greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved.” But scholars agree that what the Greek is actually saying is that Jesus is angry[i] and that Jesus weeps. If Jesus, the fully human and fully divine Son of God, can be angry and weep at death, so can we.
But Jesus does not linger in that emotion long. Second, Jesus turns to resurrection. Now we obviously cannot bring the dead back, as Jesus does with Lazarus. But we can rest our hope in the resurrection. This two-fold action of Jesus – anger and sorrow, followed by joyful hope in the resurrection – is our roadmap for this All Saints’ Day.
So despite the fact that we might want to linger in mourning, or despite the fact that the mourning comes in waves over time, we grasp tightly to the hope of resurrection. And so, with the saints, we turn toward resurrection this day too. We turn our hearts to the restored life that we find here on Long Island – as we see extension cords stretched across streets for neighbors to share power; as we welcome neighbors and strangers to come in our homes to share our power, heat, or to do a load of laundry; as we share our now unnecessary non-perishables, water, and blankets; or as we help an elderly neighbor remove branches and trees from their yard.
But we also turn to the resurrection life here at St. Margaret’s today. We have been through almost a year together now, and in that time we have seen much resurrection life. We have welcomed newcomers, revived outreach ministries, and begun new formation programs for children, teens, and adults. We have seen life after what, at times, felt like a death, and we are walking into what feels like a time for great joy and hope. So, instead of wallowing in grief, today, we choose marching forward with resurrection hope. And even though pledge cards may seem hardly appropriate today, we take our pledge cards, those symbols of our commitment to resurrection living, and we march them forward today. Because even in the midst of suffering and earthly death, today we claim life. We proclaim that we put our energies into the life of faith here in this place, and the work of witness and mission we do right here in Plainview. Because we are a resurrection people, joined by the saints, living a resurrection life. Amen.
[i] A. K. M. Adam, “Exegetical Perspective,” Feasting on the Word, Yr. B, vol. 4 (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009), 241.