1 November 2009
All Saints’ Day
Proper for All Saints’ Year B (RCL)
Wisdom of Solomon 3:1-9
The passage from Wisdom of Solomon raises and answers a difficult question. It is the conclusion to the wonderful poem about the suffering righteous one (which is the source of the line “gather ye rosebuds while ye may”). The ungodly make a deal with death — they will eat, drink and be merry while they can, but the righteous poor man troubles them, so they agree to do away with him. The ending of the poem shows how mistaken they were. The righteous one is vindicated by God even after death. The problem faced by nascent monotheism was, “what happens when God doesn’t vindicate God’s people in this world?” The solution was a belief in resurrection: either the resurrection of the just only, for reward; or of both the just and unjust for respective reward and punishment. Not everyone within Judaism was agreed on resurrection — the Sadducees sought a political solution in this world and thought the Pharisees were copping out. Christians obviously sided with the Pharisees (interesting that we preserve such a negative assessment of the very branch of Judaism from which we descend). This poem is one of the classic statements of that position.
But, what does that resurrection look like? John gives us the story of the raising of Lazarus to show us what it doesn’t look like. It’s not the resusciation of a corpse. Lazarus’ resuscitaion and Jesus’ resurrection are contrasted in many ways: Lazarus dead four days, Jesus three; Lazarus comes out still bound in the grave clothes and the face cloth. Jesus’ grave clothes and face cloth are neatly folded up. Mary falls at (and grabs) Jesus feet. Jesus instructs Mary Magdalene not to hold on to him because he has not yet ascended. Jesus tells the crowd to “unbind” Lazarus and “let him go.” We are not awaiting some kind of revivication of our corpses. It’s not clear what we await, but Jesus already IS the resurrection.
Grief is still appropriate in the face of human death. Even Jesus weeps, and gets angry at Lazarus’ death (even though he brought it about by his delay in coming). As we process out into the garden, it is appropriate for us to grieve our lost companions, as we await whatever the resurrection is.