All Saint’s Day Sermon (Lesley) John 11:32-44

Lazarus come forth
Lazarus come forth (Photo credit: Lawrence OP)

32 When Mary reached the place where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet and said, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”

33 When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled. 34 “Where have you laid him?” he asked.

“Come and see, Lord,” they replied.

35 Jesus wept.

36 Then the Jews said, “See how he loved him!”

37 But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?”

Jesus Raises Lazarus From the Dead

38 Jesus, once more deeply moved, came to the tomb. It was a cave with a stone laid across the entrance. 39 “Take away the stone,” he said.

“But, Lord,” said Martha, the sister of the dead man, “by this time there is a bad odour, for he has been there four days.”

40 Then Jesus said, “Did I not tell you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?”

41 So they took away the stone. Then Jesus looked up and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. 42 I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me.”

43 When he had said this, Jesus called in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” 44 The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face.

Jesus said to them, “Take off the grave clothes and let him go.”

How many English Heritage workers does it take to change a lightbulb?

CHANGE?????

Jesus came to change the world, and that is what I want to talk about today.

Today, we are celebrating All saint’s day. Sometimes people think of Saints as people with halos in stained glass windows. They aren’t. Saints in the bible are anyone who follows Jesus. Saints are you and me.

Sometimes people choose to celebrate the lives of those who have gone before us on All Saint’s day, but I prefer to do that at the All Soul’s. Jesus came to change the world, and the church, the disciples, the saints… us… we are the means through which Christ changes the world.

Incredible as that seems.

Sometimes people tell me that Christianity is about being nice.

Sometimes those of us in the Church can give others the impression that the church is all about me, and my comfortable worship space, and the people who make me comfortable.

But it isn’t.. Archbishop William Temple said:

“The Church is the only organisation that exists for the wellbeing and fraternity of its non-members”.

Of course the church exists to bring forward, to bring into existence the Kingdom of God. The place where Love, Joy, Peace exist. The place where people journey towards loving God and one another. The Good News that we offer is that there is a pathway towards light, and not darkness, towards life and not death, towards love and not hate.

This is dramatic, life-changing stuff. Which brings me to the Gospel passage.

Lazarus had been dead for four days. Jesus could have come sooner, but he didn’t. Martha’s words ring like an accusation, “If you had been here, my brother would not have died.”

I guess anyone who has experienced grief has experienced that one.

“If only”

She is talking about the past, but Jesus is very much in the present. I believe that the resurrection isn’t a historical event on Easter Sunday, it is something within us, we are an Easter people.

And so Jesus came to the tomb, the place of death and called out:

LAZARUS, COME OUT!

And so “The 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.”

My old Bishop – Bishop Alan once spoke of the church like the figure of Lazarus – we are brought back to life by the power of Jesus – struggling towards the light, covered in grave clothes, staggering, hampered…

I was a lecturer at New College in Oxford and there was a sculpture of Lazarus by Henry More. A huge thing, grave clothes draped around this half dead, half alive body, head at some rather alarming angle, like some sort of zombie. I rather hated it, if I am honest. But since listening to my Bishop I have become more at peace with it. Yes, of course we are half dead, but we are struggling away from that and towards the light.

It reminds me of a quote from Howard Thurman
Don’t ask yourself what the world needs; ask yourself what makes you come alive. And then go and do that. Because what the world needs is people who are alive.

So for you, for me, for us,

Where is the life?

Where is the fire?

And let us get unbound and let go. I can almost imagine Jesus laughing – for goodness sake let’s take all those bindings off and let poor old Lazarus free.

What is binding us? Individually or as a church?

Can we:

Unbind our prejudices and let us go with a new view of others.

Unbind our tiredness and let us go refreshed.

Unbind our thinking that the glory days are behind and let us go into a new vitality.

Unbind our fearfulness and let us go trusting God.

Unbind our smallnesses and let us go thinking big.

Unbind our hearts where love stops short and let us go to love everyone.

Unbind us, and let us go.

Amen.

All Soul’s Day Sermon

Grief
Grief (Photo credit: tombellart)

Alan encouraged me to preach at the All Soul’s services this year as one who has been bereaved in the last year. It has been a year when I lost my mum. It has certainly taught me more about grief than I learned when I was training for ordination.

I guess the word that sums up grief for me is “loss”. Initially, I was so shocked that I literally kept losing things. I couldn’t remember where they were. And there was the loss of control of my emotions. I descended into tears at the library when I returned mum’s book, at the dump when I took the contents of my dad’s shed there, at the charity shop where I give them both my mum’s and my gran’s clothes. Hundreds of things that I would see no more. But the objects were only symbolic of the people I would see no more.

We lose part of who we are when someone dies – one of our identities dies with them. In the case of my mum she was a touchstone, a voice who reprimanded and praised, a running commentary on my life really.

I did gain things when she died though. I don’t really mean the furniture or the extra glasses in the cupboard; I mean new insights into who she was and who I am. In reflecting on her life and writing her eulogy I recognised similarities between us that I had never spotted before. In ringing up her friends I noticed who she cared about and why. And her friends cried at the other end of the phone line, expressing their sorrow and telling me stories of her kindness that I never knew before. Of course, it would be nice to share these things with her, but it is too late.

Not that my mum was perfect. Amongst her quirks was a life-long struggle with anorexia. As her daughter, on the one hand she panicked dreadfully if I didn’t eat, and on the other hand she perpetually told me I needed to be thinner. This I hated, but now she is gone it seems odd to have no one carping at me about my weight!

Clearing my parent’s house was something sacred. Hundreds of pieces of paper, folded, treasured. The summation of a life, the sorrows and the joys. I felt like I was intruding – I would never presume to go through my parents things ordinarily. But it was my task; the one ordained to me as their child, no other could do it.

I have been surprised how much I have missed my mum. She was the one who I called for from the day of my birth. And there is something rather beautiful about the grief. For it tells me how precious we all are to each other. It gives me hope that my mediocre efforts do affect others for good and when I die I too will be remembered and missed. Each one of us is interconnected and each one of us loves and is loved, probably far more than we know. The corollary of all this interconnectedness and love is grief when a soul dies.

So remembering is good for those who have gone, for it is fitting and comforting to know we will be remembered. But it is also good for those of us who remain, not to idealise or sentimentalise the dead, but to remember truthfully. For we see ourselves more clearly in the light of those who have gone before us. This knowledge of our own mortality is humbling, but reminds us to leave the world a better place than we found it. And most of all to follow the example of those who we miss most in their loving, giving and caring.