A Great Cloud of Witnesses

Sunday, November 4, 2018
Good Shepherd Lutheran Church
John 11:32-44, Isaiah 25:6-9, Rev. 21:1-6a

 

Tears. All three of our readings this morning contain tears. Our gospel reading today contains perhaps the shortest sentence describing Jesus, yet it’s one of the most moving. “Jesus began to weep.” It catches us off guard because we don’t always think about Jesus’ deep humanity. Yet, here in this description of what happened when his friend Lazarus died, Jesus poured out his heart. Tears didn’t just roll down his face. Jesus wept.

Most of us know what it means to weep- at one point in life – to cry so hard that you wonder if the tears will ever stop. You pour your heart out, and wonder if it will ever be the same. That’s how Mary and Martha felt at the site of the tomb of their brother. He was dead. Their hearts were broken. Their grief was painful, and when Jesus finally arrived after a several day delay their response was, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” Others added, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?” Jesus was getting bombarded from everyone with criticism. I can understand the remarks. Can’t you? Jesus and the disciples were out of town and when Jesus received word that Lazarus was sick he didn’t rush to get there. In fact, John’s gospel says that Jesus and his disciples stayed two extra days. Didn’t Jesus care? Certainly that’s what many wondered. They asked, “Where were you?”

It’s a question that’s still being asked today. When accidents happen, when illness strikes, when a loved one dies, when tragedy hits like the recent horrific shooting at Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, the question arises, “Where was God?” There’s a tendency to believe that God is absent in these situations, but the reality is that God was there. God was weeping and God weeps right along with us. God weeps over the way God’s beloved creations treat each other. God weeps over injustice.  God weeps over the way anger turns into hatred, the way hatred turns into violence and death. God weeps over the sin of selfishness and greed that causes war and oppression and poverty to continue. God weeps.

And then, as Jesus did at the tomb of Lazarus, God brings resurrection. Because of Jesus, death does not and will not have the final say. Evil will not win the day. There is hope. There is salvation. There is resurrection. And while God does not need us for the work of resurrection, God allows us the gift and honor to participate in resurrection. Just as Jesus told the people to unbind Lazarus, Jesus tells us to unbind others. He tells us to unbind them with God’s love. We unbind them with forgiveness, kindness, and compassion. We unbind them by making sure that they are treated with justice. God resurrects, but we participate in that resurrection when we live not just to make our lives better, but to improve the lives of all. God changes the world through saints like us.

Saints are not just those special individuals the church holds up as models like St. Francis, or St. Bridget, or St. Nicholas. We are all saints –those living and those who have died in Christ – because we are God’s beloved creations. We are all saints together. Because of Jesus, our connection with each other and with God is never-ending. It is the reason why when we celebrate the Sacrament of Holy Communion, we remember that we celebrate it with all the saints both here on earth and in heaven. When we say or sing the Sanctus – Holy, Holy, Holy – we join with all the saints triumphant in praising God. When we are here worshipping together as the body of Christ and receiving the Body of Christ all the saints are here as well. Those who have died as we hear in the readings from Isaiah and Revelation are celebrating with God in a great and victorious feast and we are celebrating in a foretaste of that feast to come. Right here as we gather around this table we gather with all the saints. It is a sacred space when the veil of heaven is thin and we and those we love are united. The Holy Spirit is here; feel this most sacred experience.

And through this sacred experience, this blessed sacrament, Christ comes and dwells within us and works in and through us. Christ unbinds us from our fear. He unbinds us from our worries. He unbinds us from our grief. Death no longer need terrify us and life no longer need terrify us. Yes, terrible things happen in life, but God is stronger than the evil in the world. Some of us are afraid to live again, afraid to experience joy again, afraid to be alive, but through Christ Jesus we are all made alive. He has overcome death and the grave. Jesus has overcome the enemy and removed all reason to fear. It is time to live again. It is time to live as the resurrection people we are called to be.

Jesus unbinds us through His forgiveness and grace and as disciples asks us to unbind those who need to be set free as well.  It is when we do this for one another that we reveal that God is with us in the midst of our suffering. Where is God in the midst of our pain? God is present through each one of us – saints of God. St. Paul tells us in his letter to the Hebrews – “Therefore, since we are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight of sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us.” On this All Saints Day, look around, we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses. Let us begin to live today in the joy of that promise! Amen!

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