(Isaiah 25:6-9, Psalm 24, Revelation 21:1-6a)
John 11: 32-44
(watch here: https://youtu.be/tw7afE4XjQw)
32When 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.”
33When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved. 34He said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” 35Jesus began to weep. 36So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” 37But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?” 38Then Jesus, again greatly disturbed, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone was lying against it. 39Jesus 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.” 40Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?” 41So they took away the stone. And Jesus looked upward and said, “Father, I thank you for having heard me. 42I 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.” 43When he had said this, he cried with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” 44The 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.”
Death is not something that will happen to us. Death is an event that just won’t affect us. Death doesn’t apply to us. We’re invincible! We’re immortal! We’re unstoppable! Nothing will harm us. Nothing will destroy us. We will go on and on and on…
No, we are not vampires or witches or zombies or werewolves or superheroes or any other type of extraordinary being that can’t die unless through extraordinary means. No, we simply believe that we won’t die so that means we won’t die! It’s just that simple! Death has no purpose in our lives so therefore we got rid of it. After all, who really wants to go through the process of dying?! I know I don’t want to go through it! So what do you say…let’s just believe it won’t happen to us and maybe, just maybe, it won’t happen to us.
Now, I could go around the room and ask each of you if you believed that simply believing death doesn’t apply to you actually made it so. My guess is that few of us, if any, actually believe this about death. Most of us, if not all, know that death happens to us all. Death is an event that affects all of us. Death applies to all living things. No living thing is invincible, immortal, or unstoppable. All living things can be harmed and destroyed. Every living thing has an allotted amount of time in this world. When the time is up, then we move on to the next world. Believe it or not, we can’t just wish death away. We can’t just hope death away. We can’t just pray death away. Death is a part of reality that we must all face one day.
Today we celebrate all of our loved ones who have experienced death. It is a day commonly known as All Saints Day because our loved ones have gone through the process of death and have come out the other side redeemed as saints. Why do we consider loved ones “saints” of all things? Perhaps you’ve known a relative or two who didn’t live rather saintly lives. They didn’t live respectable, loving lives that were worthy of receiving the title of “saint.” No, they’re considered saints not because of the lives they led here in this world but because they came near to God. Saints, whether living or dead, are those that come near to God. Our church commemorates many people whose lives reflected a nearness to God. Some people get very near to God in this world. Some people stay very far from God in this world. Nonetheless, we ALL get very near to God when we go through death. Whether we remain near to God or are separated from God after death is determined by God alone. In death, we become saints, gathered ever so near to our good and gracious God. This day we commemorate the lives we shared with saints.
We, as living entities, each await the day when our bodies succumb to death and we enter into the presence of our God. Even so, we go through many types of death in this world besides bodily death. We lose jobs, we lose schooling, we lose homes, we lose friends, we lose enemies, we lose spouses, we lose children, we lose our youths, we lose our beauty, we lose money, we lose health, we lose our minds…death is all around us in this world! We are constantly dying and rising to new life in this world. Death walks with us each and every day of our lives. Loss and death are a constant companion in this world. Life is constantly changing and constantly evolving. Death is a necessary process for change and evolution. Though it is an unappealing process, it is a necessary process.
Our good and gracious God knows death is a process that can cause fear and anxiety in the hearts of many of us. He gives us words of reassurance to ease our fears and anxiety. We heard the prophet Isaiah speak words of comfort to the people of Israel: “And he will destroy on this mountain the shroud that is cast over all peoples, the sheet that is spread over all nations; he will swallow up death forever.” The shroud of fear and anxiety is cast over all of us as we reflect on death. God destroys the shroud and frees us to live lives unafraid of death. God sent his Son into the world to die and conquer death as a means of destroying the shroud. King David sang, “The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it, the world, and those who live in it.” Our good and gracious God created us to walk in the shadow of death all the days of our lives. Our good and gracious God wants us to appreciate and value all that is of this world. Without death, we would likely not appreciate or value all the God created for us. So in a way death is a gift to us so that we might fully appreciate and value all of God’s creation. In the book of Revelation, John spoke of a new heaven and a new earth in which “death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away.” Again, God gives us hope for a world in which the shroud of fear and anxiety will be no more. Death will no longer have power over us in God’s new creation. The apostle John recalled one of Jesus’ great miracles of breathing life into Lazarus after being dead for four days. It is a witness to a God who wants to breathe new life into dead things and people. Our God understands death the way we ought to: as a means of conversion into new life. Death is very much a reality for all living things so that we might be made new…so that we might be made better…so that we might be made more like God.
We might delude ourselves into believing that death doesn’t affect us or that death doesn’t apply to us but death is a crucial component of God’s creation. Death transforms all living things into saints and brings us ever so near to God. Sure, the process of death might be frightening but our good and gracious God awaits us on the other side. God holds us in his loving arms, in this world and the next. God holds our loved ones in his arms, in this world and the next. We shouldn’t fear death. Death is not the end of us but merely a transformation.
I close with an excerpt of a sermon that the priest Henry Scott Holland gave at the burial of King Edward VII in 1910. He wrote, “Death is nothing at all. It does not count. I have only slipped away into the next room. Nothing has happened. Everything remains exactly as it was. I am I, and you are you, and the old life that we lived so fondly together is untouched, unchanged. Whatever we were to each other, that we are still. Call me by the old familiar name. Speak of me in the easy way which you always used. Put no difference into your tone. Wear no forced air of solemnity or sorrow. Laugh as we always laughed at the little jokes we enjoyed together. Play, smile, think of me, pray for me. Let my name be ever the household word that it always was. Let it be spoken without an effort, without a ghost of a shadow upon it. Life means all that it ever meant. It is the same as it ever was. There is absolute and unbroken continuity. What is death but a negligible accident? Why should I be out of mind because I am out of sight? I am but waiting for you, for an interval, somewhere very near, just around the corner. All is well. Nothing is hurt; nothing is lost. One brief moment and all will be as it was before. How we shall laugh at the trouble of parting when we meet again!”
Let us go forth assured of God’s unconditional love and confident in knowing that…death is not the last word.
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.