All Saints Sunday November 5, 2006.
Poet Ann Weems writes, "In the godforsaken, obscene, quicksand of life, there is a deafening alleluia rising from the souls of those who weep and those who weep with those who weep. If you watch, you will see the hand of God putting the stars back in their skies, one by one." (7) The festival of All Saints is the way that we, as the community of God's people, sing our Alleluia. And we stare, bewildered, through our tears at the stars that God has placed back in our skies, the saints who surround us.
But this festival day is much more than naming, remembering, and celebrating the saints who have gone before. It is about daring to claim that death has not won and that life abounds because of Christ Jesus.
The prophet Isaiah reminds us of this. In Isaiah's vision of the eschatological banquet God will swallow up death forever. For the first hearers of these words, this image of God swallowing up death would have connected them to the Canaanite myth of the god Mot, whose name means death. In part of this complicated myth, Mot swallows up the god Baal. In this vision, God (the true and only God) uses this same action to obliterate death forever. God swallows up both the reality of individual deaths and death as a force of chaos and destruction. Isaiah's vision declares that the force of death, which impacts all people, will most certainly be eradicated from this earth.
The eschatological feast full of fatty foods and good wine is lavish and includes all people. The prophet is clear that this vision is thoroughly inclusive. God will make for all peoples a feast, God will destroy the shroud that is cast over all peoples, the sheet over all nations: God will wipe away the tears from all faces, God will take away the disgrace from all the earth.
We proclaim this same inclusive vision as we gather around our Eucharist feast. Around our Lord's Supper, God unites us in the "new covenant in Jesus' blood, shed for you and for all people." In this meal we believe that through Christ we are joined with all the saints who have gone before. Around God's table, because of Christ's presence, we sing and eat with all. Through Christ's death and resurrection we are joined with all people, from all time, at this feast of life.
In Revelation 21:4, Isaiah's promise is echoed: "God will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more." God is making all things new. God is making all things new by coming from heaven to earth to stay. In this text, God is moving in to earth, setting up shop to live with us. The Greek here is [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], which means a tent, lodging. God is here to stay. And the verb [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] is related: to live, settle, take up residence. God will remain with us, transform our world with God's presence.
This eschatological promise transforms us. The visions granted to us by Isaiah and John offer the vision that the reality of death is not the end but that even now, in the midst of our death-filled lives, God's life-giving end is present. As Barbara Rossing writes, "God's time is not linear--as we see when God speaks from the throne to enfold the past and present and future into one wonderful, sweeping declaration: 'I am the alpha and the omega, the beginning and the end.' Revelation invites us to enter into God's vision for our world even now, and to live in terms of this vision." (8)
In the Gospel text, the Fourth Evangelist makes clear the finality of Lazarus's death. John twice mentions that Lazarus has been dead for four days. Martha tells of the stench of his decaying body. We experience in our senses this painful reality of death's end. The body has been bound up with cloth and spices with the ritual decisiveness of that end.
The loud and painful reality of grief begins the pericope. Mary is weeping. The community that surrounds her is weeping. Jesus is disturbed in spirit and deeply moved; Jesus weeps. The weeping and disturbed spirit has caused much conversation among commentators and biblical scholars. Many think that Jesus is disturbed by their lack of faith, or perhaps by their unwillingness to see beyond the finality of death that surrounds them.
As Wes Howard-Brook writes, "it seems that Jesus' feelings and tears come not from grief at the fact of death but at the unbelief that accompanies it. The traditional mourning practices, the disappointment about Jesus' absence, even the hope for an eschatological resurrection all bespeak of an unwillingness or inability to believe that death does not have the last word. Jesus is life, but all those around him see nothing but the finality of death." (9)
But maybe it is just that this incarnated One, who is most human in his weeping, weeps because of his genuine compassion and concern for these people we know he loves. Throughout the Gospel of John, the evangelist describes the vision of Jesus' community as one of service, love, and friendship. Surely this would include this family for whom we know Jesus cares.
As a Ghanaian friend of mine once told me, "You can't wipe away someone else's tears without getting wet yourself." God wipes away our tears, and God Incarnate is getting wet, too. Perhaps this is our promise, the breaking of the finality of this force we know as death. And in God's own getting wet with our tears, our tears will be transformed into life.
I wonder if it might be a combination of both of these realities--Jesus' depth of concern and his sadness that they are caught in the finality of death, a finality he himself will shatter by his death and resurrection. In our humanness we are bound up in the finality of our grief; it holds us and constricts our living into both the present and future that God has promised. In "Funeral Blues," W. H. Auden laments the finality of death:
The stars are not wanted now, put out every one Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun; Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood; For nothing now can ever come to any good. (10)
In the raising of Lazarus, Jesus lives his role as the resurrection and the life, daring to speak possibility into the impossibility of death, boldly unwrapping us from all that binds us, and showing that there is indeed a future of life. SKO
7. Ann Weems, Psalms of Lament (Louisville, KY: John Knox, 1995), xvii.
8. Barbara R. Rossing, The Rapture Exposed (Boulder, CO: Westview, 2004), 149.
9. Wes Howard-Brook, Becoming Children of God (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 1994), 262.
10. W. H. Auden, "Funeral Blues," in Poems, compiled by Edward Mendelson (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1995), 50.
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|Title Annotation:||Preaching Helps|
|Author:||Olson, Sara K.|
|Publication:||Currents in Theology and Mission|
|Date:||Aug 1, 2006|
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