Come and See: An All Saints Sunday Sermon

Gospel: John 11:32-44

32 When 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.” 33 When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved. 34 He said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” 35 Jesus began to weep. 36 So 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?”   38 Then Jesus, again greatly disturbed, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone was lying against it. 39 Jesus 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.” 40 Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?” 41 So they took away the stone. And Jesus looked upward and said, “Father, I thank you for having heard me. 42 I 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.” 43 When he had said this, he cried with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” 44 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.”

            Rachel Held Evans in the book Searching for Sundays,[1] talks about her biggest regret while going through a period of intense doubt within in her congregation at the time. She regretted that her inability to be honest and to trust the good people of the congregation with her doubts, her questions, and her disillusionment, and that she didn’t allow the church to be the church during that time of great turmoil in her life.

The one thing that kept her going during her struggle was a group of young couples that had come together through that church in a group formed to support newlyweds. She describes their time together as holy.

She says, “it was in these late hours that we formed some of the most important friendships of our lives, the kind that go beyond small talk and beyond theological discussions to raw, unedited truth telling. We confessed our deepest fears and greatest doubts. We speculated endlessly about our futures and shared in one another’s joys and disappointments…This was our communion, our confession…No one felt the need to correct or understand or approve. We just listened, and it was sacred.”[2]

She goes on in the next chapter to talk about the honesty that is found at an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting and quotes Heather Kopp a Christian and an AA member who said that it took her a long time “before [she] understood that people bond more deeply over shared brokenness than they do over shared beliefs.”[3]

Bill W., founder of AA, wasn’t a perfect person, but he was a person that knew that his very survival depended on others with whom he shared honesty.[4]

So it is days like today, All Saints Day, that give us an opportunity. An opportunity to bring all of who we are to this gathering of Christ’s body. An opportunity to bring our grief, our sorrow, and our loss. An opportunity to open up in honesty bringing it to the One who wept at the grave of Jesus and share it with one another as the body of Christ.

The gospel today tells of deep pain and sorrow in both the disciples of Jesus and in Jesus himself as they faced the death of someone they loved. This body clenching grief resonates with those of us who have faced our own losses.

At one level, we find Mary blaming Jesus for not having come sooner. And can you blame her? Remember, Jesus when told of Lazyrus’ illness, delayed going to him, saying, “this illness does not lead to death; rather it is for God’s glory”[5] leaving them with cold comfort while he stayed where he was for another two days.

Upon his arrival, the disciples invite Jesus to come and see just how desperate their pain and sorrow was at their friend’s death. Here we see that even knowing that God would turn death on its ear; knowing that death was not the end; knowing that life and its fullness was God’s deep intention; kowing all of that at yet Jesus himself “was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved.”[6]

Together, they bonded over the loss, and together they moved forward into the hope of new life that is known in God.

Years ago, I went to school with a young woman from Zambia. She was a beautiful woman and I think of her often. While we were at school together, her sister in Zambia died and this young woman was inconsolable. I remember not knowing what to say but I do know that our community of faith prayed with her and felt with her and then moved on expecting her too as well.

The thing is, in Zambia, grief and mourning is much closer to the surface and this woman didn’t know how to deal with a culture that expected you to cry for one week and then go back to living life as if it had never happened.

In this world where we are expected to go on with our lives as if there is no hole in our lives when someone we love dearly is gone, it is hard to open ourselves up and to be vulnerable. But as we see at this graveside, Jesus is present and feels with us the pain at these losses that we face.

So as the disciples did on that day that Lazyrus died, this day allows us to ask Jesus to come and see…

Come and see the pain in which we live missing this one that we love.

Come and see our regrets with which we live.

Come and see the mess we are in as we try to move on living while our hearts are heavy.

Come and see the beauty of the lives of the people we love who have died and how it brought us closer each other and to you

Come and see, Jesus, come and see.

And in those moments of absolute pain, sorrow and aching loss, we find that Jesus comes, weeps with us and draws us to him, reminding us of the hope that is to come as God makes all things new in the resurrection.

We are reminded of that hope we hear in Revelation promising that “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.”[7] Promising that there will be a feast of love of which our communion that we share today is only but a taste. For as Isaiah reminds us that, ‘on this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples;”[8] those who have gone before, those that gather here, and those that are to come; God makes for all people “a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine.”[9]

Even as we share the sorrow of our losses on this day,

Even as we know the world is not quite the same as it was before,

Even as we feel our losses deeply,

We can rest here with Jesus, knowing that his death is not the end of the story.

So while we wait a while together today with each other and with Jesus, in the honesty of who we are, we rest in these promises. The promises that through Jesus, we can face death in the hope that death has no more sting. The promises that the grave will be swallowed up.

And together we sing. We sing with all the saints in glory. We sing in the vulnerability of who we are with all the saints gathered here today. We sing: Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia. Amen.

Photo Credit: “Resurrection”, © 2006 fady habib, Flickr | CC-BY | via Wylio

[1] Rachel Held Evans, Searching for Sunday: Loving, Leaving and Finding the Church. (Kindle Edition). Nashville, TN: Nelson Books, 2015.

[2] Ibid, Location 919.

[3] Ibid, Location 1070

[4] Ibid.

[5] John 11:4

[6] John 11:33

[7] Revelation 21:4.

[8] Isaiah 25:1

[9] Ibid.

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