A Homily for the Feast of All Saints
Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, who is the Resurrection and the Life. Amen.
It seems odd, doesn’t it, that Jesus should weep?
I have heard some preachers argue that Jesus wept for the doubt he saw displayed around him, that he was crying because those closest to him did not recognize his power to raise the dead, but that’s not what the text says. Martha and Mary express nothing but faith in Christ – faith that he could have healed their brother and faith that he can raise Lazarus even now.
Throughout the Gospels, we have seen him heal many and even, on rare occasion, raise the dead. When he arrived in Bethany, just a few verses before our reading today, he greeted Martha’s great faith with reassurance:
Your brother will rise again….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.
And in response, Martha’s answer is not doubt but a simple statement of faith: “Yes, Lord, I believe.”
No, Christ is weeping not because of unbelief but because he is human. Our Lord, the very Son of God, is not far-removed from us but walked among us for some three decades. For thirty-some-odd years, God the Son knew hunger and exhaustion and pain. And while Saint John the Evangelist may depict Jesus as above it all, as the Eternal Word and the Son of God, here we see a slice of his Incarnation, the fullness of his humanity, poking through. Here, Jesus appears so, so human. He is mourning the death of his friend.
Put yourselves in the room for just a moment. Look into Martha’s eyes, those blood-shot, swollen eyes of someone who has been crying for three days. Notice how Mary’s face is red from constantly wiping away tears. Feel the absence – that Lazarus isn’t there to greet the disciples.
Of course, this isn’t a difficult exercise because we have all been in rooms like this before. We’ve all known that pain. We all know what it feels like to lose a grandparent, a parent, a child, a friend, a mentor, a spouse. We’ve all worn those same sad expressions, felt the sting of crying when we’ve already shed every tear we had, of heaving out broken, painful sobs. We all know what it feels like to try to hold it in, to just make it through a few more minutes, only to collapse onto someone’s shoulder and bawl.
And undoubtedly in the midst of this scene, Christ’s mind also turns toward Jerusalem. In Saint John’s telling, this story marks the turning point; this is the event that seals Jesus’ fate. Jerusalem is only a mile and a half away; the cross is only about a week away – and drawing closer. It is after this – in this very chapter – that the scribes and the chief priests conspire to put Christ to death, and Jesus begins to carefully consider his every move. This funereal and deathly scene foreshadows the events at Golgotha; Lazarus’ tomb points towards Jesus’ own burial.
Here is our Lord at his most sympathetic and empathetic, weeping for the loss of a friend and approaching his own death. Here, he shares in that most human of experiences. Here, we relate to him most of all, a deity overcome by human emotion and the pain of loss. Here, he relates to us most of all, experiencing the most bitter aspects of humanity.
But then the story takes a sudden an unexpected turn; the ordinary aspects of death turn towards the extraordinary, the natural towards the supernatural. Jesus tells them to move away the stone, and our Lord calls the dead man from his grave. Out walks Lazarus, fully alive; he breathes, his heart beats. After a long and emotional three days, Mary and Martha start sobbing all over again as they run to their brother, as they hug him. The disciples stare on in disbelief before they rush over to greet the friend they just found out they’d lost. Our Lord, his face still wet with tears, smiles as he walks over to greet his dear friend with the kiss of peace.
This scene is more difficult for us to imagine. It’s more difficult to relate to because unfortunately none of us have experienced that emotional whiplash – maybe something kind of like it but never have any of us buried a loved one only to see them again. The grave has been all too permanent, and the departed saints are still at rest in their tombs.
Today, as we remember the faithful ones of every age who have gone before us, we still weep. We still mourn.
But today’s Gospel text gives us a fore-glimpse of something amazing: of that scene depicted so beautifully by the prophet Isaiah and Saint John of Patmos. Today, we are assured that Death is not the end. The grave is not our final resting place. Those who have fallen asleep in the Lord shall awaken on a glorious day when the tombs are empty and the sea gives up its dead.
Today is only a fore-glimpse. Today is not the end, and Lazarus’ miraculous return to life is not our ultimate hope – for Lazarus will taste death a second time. Death still roams this world for a time, sin still has its way for a time, evil still prowls for a time, the powers and principalities still fum’th in fight for a time. But we find joy in this story nonetheless because it points to something far, far better than itself.
In today’s reading we also see a glimpse of Christ’s own resurrection. Just as Lazarus’ death points towards the cross, so to does his return to life point to Christ’s empty tomb. This brief view of the Resurrection points us to the First Born from among the dead, the one who was crucified and buried but now lives never to die again.
Because we know that Christ is the Resurrection and the Life, because we know that he will rise to taste death no more, because we know that it is Death that shall die, we can trust in the glorious apocalyptic vision in Revelation:
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them as their God; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away.” And the one who was seated on the throne said, “See, I am making all things new….Write this, for these words are trustworthy and true.”
We join with all the saints who have gone before us and are now at rest in hoping for this wondrous day.
There is a time coming when we who mourn will run forward like Mary and Martha to greet our loved ones who have fallen asleep. And more than that, it will not be temporary – we will all rise to that imperishable body of the Resurrection, living in a perfected and incorruptible creation.
On that day, our weeping will turn to joy. On that day, our tears will be wiped away. On that day, we will walk together up the Mountain of the Lord to a new Jerusalem. All the saints, those whose names grace our calendars and those whose names are kept alive only by their families, will join together and worship our Risen Lord, feasting in his presence.
Until that day, may Christ give us the strength to say, “Yes, Lord, I believe.”