All Saints Sunday
All Saints’ Sunday E. Bevan Stanley November 7, 2021 Wisdom of Solomon 3:1-9 Revelation 21:1-6a John 11:32-44 And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God. In the Name of the one, holy, and undivided Trinity. Amen. Happy All Saints’ Day. Because it is All Saints’ Sunday, maybe we should think a little about what saints are and why they are important to us. Let us start with a common view of saints. Many people think of saints as those people who are so exceptionally good, in one way or another, that they are sure to be in heaven with Jesus now. We think of people who died for the faith rather than repudiate Jesus. We think of people who cared for others in a sacrificial way. We think of peacemakers and people who fought for justice. We think of people who spent their lives in prayer or in scholarship. We think of apostles and martyrs. The Book of Revelation uses the word “saint” thirteen times in this sense of people who have made it to heaven, and there is one more occurrence in Matthew. There is another meaning for the word “saint” that occurs three times as often in the New Testament—thirty six times in the letters of Paul and another four time in the Acts of the Apostles. In these passages a saint is someone who is a baptized believer here on earth. If you have been baptized, then you are a saint. The word simply means a holy person. And we are made holy, not be what we do, but by God. When I first saw the readings appointed for this occasion, I was surprised to find that the raising of Lazarus was one of them. It’s a lovely story, but why on All Saints’ Day? Consider: The story is about two sisters and a brother, Mary, Martha, and Lazarus, who live in Bethany. They are good friends of Jesus. Martha is practical is concerned with running the household. Mary is more dreamy or scholarly, depending on how you hear the stories. She loves to listen to Jesus talk. We actually know almost nothing about Lazarus. He gets sick while Jesus is somewhere else. When Jesus hears of Lazarus’ illness, he deliberately waits until Lazarus is dead before he goes to Bethany. When he gets there Martha runs out to meet him. He tells her that Lazarus will rise. She says, “I know he will rise at the end of the world.” Jesus says, “I am the resurrection and the life.” Then Mary comes and confronts him and says bluntly, “Where the blank were you? If you had been here, Lazarus would not have died.” When they come to the tomb, we encounter the shortest verse in the Bible: Jesus wept. Then Jesus tells the crowd to roll away the stone from the tomb. Martha warns him that after four days Lazarus is going to be smelling really bad. Jesus insists, and calls, “Lazarus, “Lazarus, come out!” 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.” This story is not about special heroes up in heaven. It is about people who were friends of Jesus here on earth. Now look at what we see in the passage from Revelation. Much of Revelation tells of what John the Divine saw in a vision and much of the book has scenes of heaven. But in this passage nearly at the end of the book, we read: And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them as their God; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them.” At the end of time, this vision tells us, we don’t go to heaven; heaven comes to us. God will be with us. Yes, of course it is comforting to know that, in the words of our first reading from the Book of Wisdom, “The souls of the righteous are in the hand of God, and no torment will ever touch them. . . they are at peace. For though in the sight of others they were punished, their hope is full of immortality.” Yet the message of the New Testament is that we get to be saints here and now. We don’t have to go to God; God comes to us. We don’t need to wait for the end of time to get eternal life, we just need to be friends with Jesus. The eternal life that God years for us to enjoy is not simply a return to this life, a resuscitation. The rich, full, deep, abundant, eternal life that God want us to have comes as a gift. It is new thing that comes after the old has passed away. “See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them as their God; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away.” And the one who was seated on the throne said, “See, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this, for these words are trustworthy and true.” Then he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end.” We are the holy ones of God, made so by God in our baptisms. We get to live in a world where God makes all things new. Every day. Every minute.