Most Sundays we talk about Jesus’ life and witness and how we can emulate the Son of God. Many years ago, there was even a campaign with the letters WWJD: What Would Jesus Do. But what we rarely talk about is how incredibly hard that ideal is – how hard as everyday humans emulating the Savior, who was both fully human and fully divine, really is. So, in theory, a day like today should be a relief. All Saints Sunday is a day we shift gears and talk about emulating people who were fully human. Of course, that notion is tricky too. By “saints” the church means those “persons of heroic sanctity, whose deeds were recalled with gratitude by
later generations.”[i] These are people like St. Francis who shed his every earthly possession and obtained the stigmata, Mother Teresa who nursed this sickest of the sick and poorest of the poor, or even St. Margaret, who slayed her way out of a dragon after being tortured for her faith.
I think that is why we often conflate All Saints and All Souls Day – the latter being a day when we remember all of those who have died in the hope of the resurrection. These are the saints or souls who may not have been marked by heroic sanctity, but certainly had an impact on our lives. These are the moms and dads, the spouses and friends, the children and lovers who may not have always been holy, but certainly taught us about the Christian faith and who we entrusted to the hope of the resurrection as we sat by their deathbeds or mourned their sudden deaths from afar.
We conflate the notion of All Souls Day into All Saints Day because there is something more human about All Souls Day – not only because we can relate to ordinary human life and death, but because the celebration today makes us feel like our humanity can be enough too. That’s why I love the gospel lesson we get today. In all the texts about Jesus’ healings, outwitting the challengers, and his ultimate sacrifice for us on the cross, today we get a text about Jesus being very human. Before the amazing miracle of raising Lazarus from the dead, we are told, very simply, Jesus wept. Caught up in the grief of his friends Martha and Mary and lost in his own overwhelming sense of loss, Jesus cries; not just a single, artistic tear, but a full-on bout of weeping. In that solitary moment of grief, Jesus feels deeply, tangibly human.
I do not know about you, but that is what I need from Jesus today. Later in our service we will list the names of the beautiful souls from Hickory Neck who died in the last year – those who made us laugh, sometimes made us angry, who put a smile on our face, and sometimes made us weep. In the Prayers of the People, we will pray for the over 750,000 people who have died of COVID in the United States, mourning not just their loss, but the loss of our old “normal” and all that this pandemic has taken from us. We mourn the ways in which many of the funerals we celebrated in the last year cheated us from each other’s presence – a reality that has still not be fully remedied. In the midst of what has been a time of significant trauma, we need a Savior who weeps with us – and not just for the dear friend who has died, but also for the fact that his raising Lazarus will soon mean his own death.[ii]
That very gift of Jesus’ humanity today is what empowers us to boldly proclaim hope[iii] in the midst of sorrow, in the midst of trauma, in midst of this strange in-between time. The words of Isaiah remind us of the promise, the promise that, “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. And he will destroy on this mountain the shroud that is cast over all peoples, the sheet that is spread over all nations; he will swallow up death forever. Then the Lord God will wipe away the tears from all faces, and the disgrace of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the Lord has spoken. It will be said on that day, Lo, this is our God; we have waited for him, so that he might save us. This is the Lord for whom we have waited; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.” On this All Saints Sunday, that is our hope for the week – the promise that the Lord God will wipe away tears – because God’s Son has known our tears – and that we will enjoy that rich feast with our loved ones again. This in-between time is just that – a time in-between where the promise of new life is a rich promise indeed; one that gives us strength for the not-yet time. Thanks be to God!
[i] Holy Women, Holy Men: Celebrating the Saints, (New York: The Church Pension Fund, 2010),664.
[ii] Debie Thomas, “When Jesus Weeps,” October 28, 2018, as found at https://www.journeywithjesus.net/essays/1999-when-jesus-weeps on November 5, 2021.
[iii] Kathryn M. Schifferdecker, “Mourn Loss, Proclaim Faith,” November 1, 2021, as found at https://www.workingpreacher.org/dear-working-preacher/mourn-loss-proclaim-faith on November 5, 2021.