November 7: All Saints Sunday

The sermon for Sunday, November 7, 2021, was preached as a response to John 11.32-44 in the context of All Saints Day with a Baptism. The sermon was preached by the Rev. Joseph Peters-Mathews, vicar of St. Hilda St. Patrick based on the manuscript below.

In the name of God
in whom we live and move
and have our being. Amen.
“Lord, if you had been here,
my brother would not have died.”
Jesus knew that Lazarus was sick
but took his time
returning to Bethany.
John tells us,
before the passage we hear today,
that this was a choice.
This was a choice
so that God’s glory could be shown.
Confronting the reality of death,
the reality of Satan’s dominion in this,
moves Jesus to anguish
even as he prepares for his own death.
His friend Lazarus is dead,
and his friends Mary and Martha
are grieving their brother’s death.
John records specific, human details
as he tells us the story
of Jesus coming to Lazarus’ death.
Mary and others are weeping.
There’s a solid cave
with a solid stone.
Having been in the ground four days
with no particular embalming
there is a fear that Lazarus will smell.
Lazarus has been buried specifically
in strips of cloth,
burial clothes that we can see
in our imaginations.
And Mary and Martha
and their friends who have been following Jesus
are concerned that this is the end.

Many of us,
are ourselves regularly concerned
that this is the end.
In our own fears and frustrations,
in our anxiety and doubt
we wonder how long this will go on.
We wonder why Jesus’ return
is delayed for us
the way it was for Mary, Martha, and Lazarus.
As we look around
and notice in elections last week
that many voters would rather ban
discussing racist systems that have built the world
than work to dismantle those systems.
In other elections
police accountability was rejected
despite all of last year
and the cycle of cell phone video
recording police officers
as judge, jury, and executioner
of unarmed people —
disproportionately unarmed Black folk.
Sooner than later
we’ll see it again.
As we ourselves
attempt to educate ourselves
and turn that into antiracist actions
we feel the exhaustion.
“Lord, if you had been here,
my brother would not have died.”

When people reject
learning the racism embedded in our systems
they just underscore what the Rev. Kara Slade,
Canon Theologian for the Diocese of New Jersey says,
“The metanarrative presented by Big history,
especially in its popularized forms,
downplays or ignores the role
of racialized colonialism
in favor of a unified narrative
of the unfolding of globalization…
the role of race in scientific metanarratives like Big history
is enmeshed at the deepest level
with its appeal to scientific authority
and its inhuman time scale,
marking some human beings as the victors
and others as its dross.”[1]
As the Conference of Parties
has been gathered in Glasgow,
the victims of the racist colonialism
those are most severely feeling the impact of the climate crisis
are begging and demanding
to not be marked as dross,
left to drown because of others’ actions
over the last two centuries.
“Lord, if you had been here,
my brother would not have died.”

As with all these challenges,
all these concerns,
all the cares and occupations of this world,
Lazarus’ death is not the end of the story.
When asked where Lazarus has been lain,
those around him answer
with the same way that he called his first disciples
in John’s gospel,
“Come and see.”
Jesus, in the fullness of his humanity,
begins to cry.
He’s taken to the tomb,
and has them roll away the stone.
After four days
not only is Lazarus potentially smelly,
his spirit is expected to have left his body.
Then we have an example
of Canon Slade’s explanation of Jesus:
“The Triune God
has acted, acts, and will act
freely in loving relationship to the created world
in and through the covenant of grace.
In Jesus Christ,
the eternal God
took on human temporality.
The creator irrupted
into created time.
In doing so,
God embraced, redeemed, and liberated
human existence in time.”[2]

Jesus, who is one with the Father
and the Holy Spirit
prays outside Lazarus’ tomb.
Jesus doesn’t want to draw attention to himself.
Jesus wants to point to God’s acts of redemption
and show those gathered around
that he acts for salvation.
Jesus calls out to 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, who has just wept over his friend’s death
has power over death!
He was not around while Lazarus was sick,
but that was not the end of Lazarus’ life,
nor do we believe that death
is the end of our lives.
“The dead man came out,
his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth,
and his face wrapped in a cloth.”

We’re gathered here today,
celebrating all the saints who have gone before us
and remembering the souls of those dear to us
who are on their journey to God.
And we’re gathered here today
to join Aria to the body of Christ,
to make a new saint
as the new testament understands the word.
On this day that we celebrate
the exemplars of the faith
and remember those loved lost,
we will charge Aria —
and her parents on her behalf —
“Confess the faith of Christ crucified,
proclaim his resurrection,
and share with us in his eternal priesthood.”
Through water and the Spirit
Aria will be joined to Christ’s death and resurrection,
the death and resurrection of the same Jesus
who cried salty tears over Lazarus’ death
and saw the strips of cloth
that bound him in his grave.

Jesus will again irrupt into time
with his physical presence
in bread and wine.
As Aria is joined to Jesus in baptism
we all continue to be joined to him
and to one another
when we feast on his flesh and blood.
Having been joined to Jesus’ death and resurrection
in our own baptisms
we move from strength to strength
empowered by the Holy Spirit
following Jesus, the author and perfecter
of our faith.
As we celebrate all the saints
and pray for all the souls,
we may not necessarily consider ourselves
exemplars of faith.
Jesus has to say to Martha,
who has been studying with him for a while,
“Did I not tell you
that if you believed,
you would see the glory of God?”
And thus we see here,
in water, oil, bread, and wine,
a savior who cares about our bodies
and the bodies of those around us.
When cry out in lament,
“Lord, if you had been here,
my brother would not have died” —
about the Conference of Parties
or systemic racism in policing or housing
or so-called “critical race theory”
or, or, or,
we have the examples of the saints
those who believed
and saw the glory of God.
And we have this font, this altar,
this bath and this meal,
how God takes care of God’s children —
by washing and feeding them.
For even if we don’t feel like
exemplars of the faith,
God is still working with us, too.
Søren Kierkegaard said,
“God creates out of nothing —
marvelous, you say.
Yes, of course,
but he does something more marvelous:
he creates saints out of sinners.”
To the bath and the table
to the prayers and the word
come every seeking soul.

[1] Kara N. Slade, The Fullness of Time: Jesus Christ, Science, and Modernity, 13.
[2] Slade, 3.

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