A sermon for the Feast of All the Saints, Year B
Isaiah 25:6-9; Psalm 24; Revelation 21:1-6a; John 11:32-44
In our readings this morning we have heard stories of suffering but also of restoration.
God’s people have suffered. In Isaiah’s prophecy, Isaiah is speaking to God’s people in exile. They have been weeping because of their suffering. They have been crying out to God for salvation. In this morning’s text we are shown a glorious image of God’s restoration. The setting is on a mountain. Mountains are best, because they are high ground. No enemy can sneak up on you. No flood can wash you away.
The people are feasting on rich food and drinking well-aged wine. Both of these are images not just of prosperity but of time – it takes time to age fine wine. And rich food doesn’t come overnight either. But this image isn’t just about the party.
God has destroyed death. He has swallowed it up forever, as easy as that rich food God’s people are enjoying. And God has wiped away the tears from ALL faces, and he has removed the disgrace of his people from the earth. What a glorious image. This is cause to celebrate, indeed!
Lift up your heads, O gates; and the king of glory shall come in.
I saw a new heaven and a new earth. The old has passed away. God has come to dwell with us, and God has adorned his people as a bride. Another excuse to party! And hear it again, “God himself will be with them; he will wipe every tear away from their eyes. Death will be no more.”
“See, I am making all things new!”
“Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” Mary is a mix of emotions when she sees Jesus. She is grief-stricken because Lazarus has died. She’s also confused and angry. “Jesus, where were you?”
In some of the most powerful words in all of scripture we see the very human side of Jesus. “Jesus was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved,” and then we hear, “Jesus began to weep.” This is not one manly tear trickling down his cheek. Jesus is weeping along with Mary, Martha, and all those gathered to mourn Lazarus. His tears were real. Weeping is part of what it means to be human.
We lose people we love. We ask those hard questions, “God, where were you?” “If you had been here, if you had done your job, my friend, my husband, my mother, my son, all those innocent people, would not have died!” This scripture gives us an image of God in the face of Jesus. Jesus wept. God not only sees our tears, but he feels the grief as well.
But the story does not end in tears. “Unbind him, and let him go.” Jesus calls on the crowd to roll away the stone from in front of Lazarus’ tomb, even though they are afraid of the smell. Jesus thanks God, very much like how he thanks God for the bread and the wine at the Last Supper. This is a moment much like the moment in Isaiah and Revelation. At least at this moment, for these people, death has been conquered. They were wiping away their own tears that day when they saw Lazarus.
But death would soon take Jesus away from them. Yet again, it wasn’t the end of the story. Jesus would rise, and they would see their mourning turned to dancing. They would feast with him. They would celebrate.
Our lives are marked by tears and rejoicing. We cry tears of joy at the birth of a child, and tears of sorrow when a parent dies. We hear this promise; this unbelievable promise that one day, this cycle will end. Death will be no more. We can’t wait for that day, but for now we must expect some more tears to come our way.
On this All Saints Day, we remember all who have died. We will hear the names read, but there are surely others on our hearts. Don’t hesitate to name them aloud as well. God knows their names, and God knows how much we love them. As we gather around God’s table this morning, they are with us. We look forward to the day when we will be reunited. For now, we may shed a few tears, but one day, God himself will wipe away all our tears, forever. Amen.