Who among us has not loved to sing, “When All the Saints Go Marching In …..O Lord, I Want to Be in that Number. WOW! That’s quite a parade to join. Some of the ways that we have recognized saints are these:
They have extended to others the mercy that they have received from God.
And when God’s reign was under attack, they found the courage to stand steadfast -- regardless of the cost that this might exact.
Many of you know how much I have admired Etty Hillesum, A Dutch Jew, who wrote about the need to unbind those who were headed for the death chambers, at the hands of the Nazis! Here is what Etty wrote in her journal as she was preparing for her own deportation:
…One thing is becoming increasingly clear to me: that we must help You, God, in order to help ourselves - all of us…..what really matters these days is that we safeguard that little piece of You God, in ourselves, and to defend Your dwelling place inside us to the last……
It may have seemed that God was not intervening directly, but Etty and so many others will tell story after story of how they were able to partner with God in both prayer and simply encouraging and supporting one another. As a result they were able to see the many God-moments that required only a human response to complete the miracles that God was already doing within those camps and beyond. Hitler’s thousand-year Reich was brought down in only twelve years!
We are a part of the communion of saints, not because of some inherent quality or because of what we have done, but because we have chosen to become a part of God’s community. Our baptism becomes a mark of sainthood.
St. Paul uses the term “saint” over and over in his letters to refer to the Church on earth. We are called saints because of God’s continuing incarnate presence among us. What gives God’s people the label of saint, is not what we do, or what we have earned -- but because of God’s presence within and among us.
This Sunday’s readings for All Saints Sunday focuses less on the “saints” and more on what all saints are promised and encouraged to be in our partnership with God’s work here on earth.
Our gospel lesson this morning, the story of the raising of Lazarus, is one of the most heartrending stories in the Bible. It describes with passion the loss that one feels in the face of death, and it shows the depths of compassion that people do feel for loved ones who are coping with loss.
As Lazarus comes forth from the tomb, can’t you just hear all the people and friends who were gathered there to mourn? Lazarus, Lazarus, tell us, what was it like?
Lazarus passed through death and was returned to life-- but I think we’d agree that Jesus was pointing to a far more important reality than what Lazarus may or may not have experienced “on the other side.” Lazarus’ experience points to the main theme in the Gospel of John: ETERNAL LIFE DOESN’T BEGIN ON THE FAR SIDE OF THE GRAVE…..IT BEGINS……..ON THIS SIDE!
This is what our gospel message says to us today: the kingdom of God is here and now and most certainly “eternal life does begin on this side of the grave.”
What grabbed me most this week, as I read and reread again this story of Lazarus - were the words: “UNBIND HIM AND LET HIM GO”!
First, Jesus commands Lazarus “TO COME OUT.” Next he commands the community “TO UNBIND HIM AND LET HIM GO.”
Jesus performs what is perhaps his most significant miracle—so much so that not only are many in the crowd moved to faith but his opponents are moved to conspire toward his death.
What I see as equally important is that Jesus instructs and expects the crowds to participate in and actually “TO COMPLETE THE MIRACLE.”
BOTH MATTER! It is Jesus who has the power to heal, to feed, to restore, to bring to life, to redeem. But Jesus seeks to involve US in these actions and, indeed, perhaps expects us to complete them.
Think about what other miraculous things God intends to do in our communities.--
We have to think seriously about not only the things that bind us as a community and the work to which we are called to partner with Christ,--- but also about those things that bind us individually from moving ahead in our own journey….
So what do we need unbound? -- either as individuals or as a community?
Is it to unbind ourselves by forgiving ourselves for not being who we want to be? This is a big one for many!
Is it to unbind our prejudices and let go -- perhaps accepting a new view of others?
Is it to unbind our hearts where love stops short? This is one that I have to wrestle with often because there are some for which I’m only willing to love – just so much
Is it to unbind our resources and share with those who have far less? What about the victims of the recent storms?
Brian Taylor in his book “BECOMING HUMAN” says this: “We must learn somehow to forgive ourselves for being human” ….he goes on to say that we have to get over basing our self worth on any accomplishments we have achieved or not achieved but instead on God’s delight in us AS WE ARE TODAY!!!! Wow! God’s delight in us AS WE ARE TODAY!
Henri Nouwen reminds us that “the greatest enemy and trap that keeps us bound is self-rejection, doubting who we really are!
Remember the time in David’s life as is told in I Samuel when he had made some bad decisions, ended up fighting on the side of King Saul’s enemy. Then all of a sudden David found himself in the situation where even those he had trusted were now against him and there were those who were about to stone him….. David was pretty much at the bottom and……..
What did David do? The story goes that David went out and “encouraged” himself in the Lord, or as the modern translation states: “He went out and strengthened himself in the Lord.” What a fantastic way to deal with situations and ourselves when everything around us feels hopeless…. even when we feel we are to blame. We just turn around and do what David did…… “ENCOURAGE OR STRENGTHEN OURSELVES IN GOD.”
Then we are able to reach out and unbind another:
The story is told of a Dutch soldier who was captured and made prisoner of war. Isolated, lonely, afraid, and feeling that he had nothing to live for, he received an unexpected letter, crumpled and dirty because it had traveled so long and far to reach him. It was just a piece of paper, but on it were these simple words: “We all are waiting for you at home. Do not worry. We will see you back at home.” This simple letter, these simple words changed his life. He now had a reason to live. The external circumstances of his life, his imprisonment and his isolation, did not change….but SOMEBODY WAS WAITING FOR HIM. HE STILL HAD A HOME….. AND HOPE WAS REBORN IN HIM.
When we accept who we are at God’s Table. We are to remember that we don’t have to earn God’s approval or love. It is freely given – we just have to RECEIVE IT.”
Today, as we celebrate the Eucharist, in the presence of all the saints who have gone before us, and the saints with whom we share this communion table, let’s be mindful it is a day to accept ourselves -- as we receive God’s Grace, God’s Mercy, God’s Unconditional Love, AT THE TABLE…… IN THE COMMUNION OF SAINTS.”