Gospel: John 11:32-44
32When Mary came where Jesus was and saw him, she knelt at his feet and said to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” 33When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved. 34He said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” 35Jesus began to weep. 36So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” 37But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?”
38Then Jesus, again greatly disturbed, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone was lying against it. 39Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, “Lord, already there is a stench because he has been dead four days.” 40Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?” 41So they took away the stone. And Jesus looked upward and said, “Father, I thank you for having heard me. 42I knew that you always hear me, but I have said this for the sake of the crowd standing here, so that they may believe that you sent me.” 43When he had said this, he cried with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” 44The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.
All Saints Day is a time to remember that we in the living, breathing, earthly sense are the minority of the church. The church is all those who have gone before us in the faith, some traditions speak of the Church Triumphant and the Church Militant. The church in heaven and the church on earth, but in this case militant doesn’t refer to military, but in fact “to struggle, to make an effort.” The church militant does the work of spreading the gospel, sent out into the world in the great commission. We struggle mightily to do God’s work – because the church here on earth has never been called to be successful, only called to be faithful. We are not alone in the struggle though- o blest communion fellowship divine. We feebly struggle – they in glory shine.Yet all are one, within your grand design. We struggle, but not alone.
In this past two years, when we think about the 5 million lives lost in the wake of a global pandemic, we think about the funerals and the family gatherings that were postponed, cancelled, or not normal. The ways in which we normally would grieve together, leaning on each other emotionally and physically for support were taken away.
Holy communion was also with held for a time, and your clergy grieved its absence, but struggled with a faithful way to both commune safely in the midst of the pandemic and envision a way to celebrate the sacrament that was not just limited to a certain group or part of the congregation. Now that we have returned to a new normal, we receive this gift of Christ’s body and blood on a regular basis, offered for us as a means of grace to strengthen the whole body.
We reconnect with those who live with God, and those who still live here with us in a sacred way when we participate in the sacrament of Holy Communion. It was common practice in the last century, especially for country churches, to have a cemetery on the church property. Some churches were built with an altar rail, in a semi circle, around the chancel – and the cemetery, just on the other side of the wall, formed the second half of that circle. A very visible reminder, that just this wall separates us from our loved ones and all who have died in christ, when we gather at the table to complete this circle.
It is in the Eucharist that the community of God’s people is fully manifest, in the simple act of sharing a meal God comes to be among us. This holy meal is a foretaste of that great and promised feast to come, where death and pain will be no more, and where we shall be among all the saints. While we no longer kneel at an altar rail in this space, we participate together, we pray together, we lift our hearts together and open our hands together as we form this invisible circle. These bonds both connect us and strengthen us for the times when we truly need each other, especially in the wake of grief and loss.
Mary and Martha are grieving the loss of their brother, and cry out to Jesus. They blame Jesus for the loss of their brother – if you had been here he would not have died. We know that sometimes our feelings of grief and loss show up in words of anger or acts of desperation. We blame God, we blame ourselves, or we blame others when the unthinkable happens and we cannot make sense of it. Our faith may even waver or be disrupted with these feelings.
Grief is a long and varied process of being in this world while holding a loss. That could be the loss of a family member or friend, the loss of a job, the loss of community, the loss of health or ability or the loss of a relationship. There is not one clear pattern we all follow, but many emotions and waves that will hit us and drag us under yet again. It is for this reason we do grief in community, especially in the Christian community.
Author Rachel Held Evans died suddenly at age 37 from a serious illness leaving behind a spouse and children – her her latest book pulished posthumously she writes “For better or for worse, there are seasons when we hold our faith, and then there are seasons when our faith holds us. In those latter instances, I am more thankful than ever for all the saints, past and present, who said yes and whose faith sustains mine. They believe for my when I’m not sure I believe. They hold on to hope for me when I’ve run out of hope. They are the old lady and the little kid behind me who recite the Apostles’ Creed on my behalf on those Sundays when I cannot bring myself to say all those ancient words wholeheartedly–Is this what I really believe?”
It’s hard to know how to be present with someone who is grieving, just as its hard to know how to be present when you are the one experiencing grief and loss, but the best advice I read this week in a colleagues sermon is to just keep showing up.
If you are grieving, don’t worry about how you need to act or the happy face you need to put on for others. Bring your grief and acknowledge it and let the community care for you. If you are supporting someone who is grieving, show up for them. You don’t even have to say anything. Go to the funeral if you are able – just stand there are lift your voice in song or prayer so that those who are grieving know they are not alone. Always go to the funeral. Call and check on them, not just in the weeks after a loss, but in the months after too. The church is meant to struggle together. The church is meant to show up for each other.
Jesus shows up for us with both compassion and promise. He walks with us through the darkest valleys and his word reminds us that even the darkest valleys will lead us to the mountain top, where God will dwell with us and this mourning and pain will be a thing of the past. Jesus shows up for us in this meal and shows up for us whenever two or three are gathered together.
The saints we remember were those who showed up. Those who struggled and did not quit. Those who walked with us and sat with us and encouraged us on our way. This struggle in our daily life – against, sin death and the devil – often shows up in our hymnody with warfare imagery. And when the strife is fierce the warfare long, steals on the ear the distant triumph song, and hearts are brave again and arms are strong. Especially in times of struggle and strife, the community is the one who will sing for us that distant triumph song. They remind us that this daily struggle is not God’s last word. The community of the saints reminds us of the alleluias and gives us the strength to lift our own voices in song. Amen.
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