All Saints’

4 November 2012
All Saints’ Day (observed)
All Saints’ B(RCL)
Isaiah 25:1-9
Psalm 24
Revelation 21:1-6a
John 11:32-44

I have really enjoyed using the RCL, and dealing with many great stories that the BCP lectionary ignored. I’m not overjoyed with the readings for All Saints’ Day this year, however. All the readings (well, except for the Gospel) are options for funerals. That’s not the happiest way to think about All Saints’ Day. Certainly, funerals are Easter liturgies, as are baptisms, and it is by virtue of our baptism that we are saints, and by virtue of death that we enter the great communion of saints, but it just doesn’t seem very upbeat. I would rather read about the saints casting their crowns around the crystal sea, than about God wiping every tear from the eye.

We also have a particularly weird piece of the Lazarus story. Lazarus coming out of the tomb wrapped in the grave clothes seems more appropriate to Halloween than to All Saints’ Day. I’ve always thought that John’s story of Lazarus is supposed to have an element of humor in it, as a way of sneaking the theological point past our defenses. When Jesus hears of Lazarus’ illness, he delays, in order that the glory of God may be revealed; presumably in order that he might raise Lazarus from the dead. He delays two days, and yet when he arrives at Bethany, Lazarus has been dead four days. Not sure how the chronology works, but we’ll take John’s word for it. And then, when he stands at the tomb, he grandstands for the crowd — I already knew that you always hear me, but I have said this for the benefit of the crowd.

When both Martha and Mary come to Jesus, each says, “Sir, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” I wonder if that was the plaint of the early Christian community — why is Jesus delaying, and all these good brothers and sisters dying? Jesus replies to Martha (before our reading for Sunday), I AM the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in me is already resurrected and has the life of the ages. When Lazarus comes out of the tomb still wrapped in the grave clothes, John is making the point that this is not the resurrection. When Peter and the beloved disciple entered Jesus’ tomb, they saw the grave clothes neatly folded.

Another construction stands out. When Jesus asks the crowd where they have laid Lazarus, they tell him, “Come and see.” In the call of the disciples in Chapter Two, that phrase occurs a number of times, the first when Jesus turns and sees John’s two disciples following him. He asks, “What are you seeking?” and they reply, “Teacher, where are you staying?” He replies, “Come and see.” Others are called with the same words: come and see.

That phrase then occurs here in John’s Gospel (and not anywhere between Chapter Two and here). It occurs then again several times in the resurrection stories. When the other disciple enters the tomb (the word for “enter” is “come into) and sees the grave clothes, he believes. After Jesus’ appearance to the Mary in the garden, she comes to the disciples and announces that she has seen the lord (same vocabulary). Clearly the Gospel writer wants us to connect the call stories, the story of Lazarus and the resurrection of Jesus.

When Mary enters the tomb, she sees two angels, on at the head and one at the foot of where Jesus lay. Rowan Williams has connected these two angels to the cherubim over the ark — the mercy seat. The presence of God is signified by empty space. Jesus’ resurrected presence has become the new mercy seat. And Jesus’ new resurrected presence is in community, in the appearance to the disciples and the breath, the peace and the instruction to release sins. It is not, compared to Lazarus, the resuscitation of a corpse. Jesus instructs the crowd, concerning Lazarus, “Unbind him and let him go.” He tells Mary, “Do not hold on to me, for I am going to my father and your (plural) father, my God and your (plural) God.”

How do we experience the resurrection of our saints? How do we unbind Lazarus and let him go?

2 thoughts on “All Saints’”

  1. Recently I finished the manuscript of a devotional commentary on the raising of Lazarus. Drawing from both Roman Catholic and a variety of Protestant commentaries, I found a common theme: we are all Lazarus. He is a prototype of the resurrection of the saints. (Perhaps that is why the Lectionary places this pericope on All Saints.) The narrative is two-tiered: we are regenerated and will be resurrected. The post-resurrection meal with Christ (John 12:1-2) is prototypical of the Eucharist (both now and future.) Based on my study, I do not believe Lazarus was merely resusitated, but that he was indeed resurrected. Many of the Jews of the time believed the soul hovered around the body for three days, then left. It is mentioned twice in the narrative that Lazarus had been dead four days, an indicator that he was definitively dead. He was in the intermediate state. Tennyson, in In Memoriam, wrote:
    When Lazarus left his charnel-cave
    And home to Mary’s house returned,
    Was this demanded–if he yearned
    To hear her weeping by his grave?

    ‘Where wert thou, brother those four days?’
    There lives no record of reply,
    Which telling what it is to die
    Had surely added praise to praise.

    From every house the neighbors met,
    The streets were filled with joyful sound,
    A solemn gladness even crowned
    The purple brows of Olivet.

    Behold a man raised up by Christ!
    The rest remaineth unrevealed;
    He told it not; or something sealed
    The lips of the Evangelist.

    #### In your sermon yesterday, I particularly appreciated the contrast you drew to our Lord’s resurrection. That is a weak spot in my manuscript. Also, the angels at the head and foot in the resurrected Christ’s tomb, postioned as the Cherubim were at the Ark of the Covenant, was new to me. We are always learning, aren’t we? Thank you for serving at Advent.

    1. Jana,
      Thanks for your comments. I stole the bit about the angels in the tomb and the cherubim in the holy of holies from Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury (for a few more weeks). Interesting observation about Lazarus being the reading for All Saints, that we, like him, are in an intermediate state. There is also that passage in Matthew’s Gospel in which the dead come out of their tombs at Jesus’ resurrection. I wonder how much of that is connected to the idea, in the Gospel of Peter, of Jesus preaching to the dead (and harrowing hell)?

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