Sunday, October 29, 2006

All Saints day sermon

Isaiah 25: 6-9
John 11: 32-44

Our scriptures today are wonderful and complex. In our Gospel lesson we heard of Jesus’ most significant miracle because he demonstrated his power over death itself. This miracle was the raising of Lazarus. When I think of this scripture, I have in my mind the images from a film that has nurtured my faith—so I’d like to share those images with you. They come from a film that stirred up a lot of controversy and in turn was overlooked by much of the Christian community: The Last Temptation of Christ.
There are several symbolic acts in this scene that I think are very powerful testimonies of Christ’s identity for us as the church. They are powerful because like the rest of the novel and the film adaptation, they speak powerfully to the humanness of our savior Jesus Christ. First, Jesus stands at the entrance to the tomb and thrusts his hands through the invisible barrier between the outside of the tomb, where living is done, and the inside of the tomb—the domain of death. It is a powerful visual symbol for us for the identity of Christ who defeats death. He has set the stage for what follows—a description of how death is defeated by Christ. After Jesus issues his command into the tomb, first a whisper, then appealing to the prophets and heroes of his faith, then finally with a command coming from his own heart, he kneels in prayer at the tomb for what seems to be a while.
He is startled when the rotting hand of Lazarus reaches up for him. Pensive as he contemplates the magnitude of his actions, Jesus then reaches his hand into the tomb. Death’s hand at first re-acquaints itself with the living, then with desperation grasps hold and pulls Jesus into the tomb with him. For me, these are powerful and imaginative additions to the story we have in our scriptures. They speak to Jesus’ identity because they describe for us how Jesus came to defeat death for all of us.
God, in Jesus Christ, defeated death by taking it on himself. By being pulled into the tomb to experience all that we experience….and then—embracing us even still. Did you notice that? Instead of turning away in fear and repulsion to the corpse that is pulling him in, Jesus embraces Lazarus in the tomb and pulls him back into the living! Jesus gives us new life because Jesus embraces us and pulls us out of our tombs and into life again. In life and in death and in life beyond death, we never leave the loving embrace of our savior.
Fortunately for us Methodists, most of the images of the life to come in the Scriptures are feasts. God knows we Methodists like to eat! Isaiah paints the picture of rich food, well aged wines—white and red! And rich food filled with marrow—YUM! As we all sit at the table with the rest of the human family, God provides the dinner entertainment—a great shroud or sheet symbolizes our death—it is as if the table is set on it as the tablecloth. Like a magician, God strips the tablecloth from under the feast without a glass of that well aged wine spilling on the table. Then, he takes the shroud and swallows it. We all applaud. He wipes away every tear and fills our hearts with gladness—he wipes disgrace from the ends of the earth.
This week we celebrate the continual life of those saints who have gone before us. It is All Saint’s Day this week. The first of November was in the old calendar the beginning of the year. The harvest came to completion and great feasts were held. During these feasts, those who had passed away in the previous year were uplifted, celebrated, and preserved in memory.
It is also in the tradition of this church a youth Sunday, when young people are lifted up, celebrated, and involved in the worship leadership of this congregation. It occurred to me that it would be greatly symbolic for our youth to lead the congregation in its remembrance of its departed. It is symbolic to me because God holds us as precious in our infancy, in the early stages of our walk of faith, all through our lives to our deaths and finally beyond our death. God’s power and presence is made most manifest when we worship as a family—old and young, vibrant and tired. We worship a God who sets a feast for all. And our worship is the participation in that feast of life.
During our great thanksgiving today, we will lift up the names of those who have gone on to the next life during this past year. After each name is read, the bell will toll. A bell makes sound because it is hollow in the middle. The hammer strikes the inside of the bell, and then the sound reverberates out of the hollow opening, emitting vibrations in the air that continue to issue forth even after the hammer has struck.
Our lives have the same effect on the world around us. If our whole lives are symbolized by that brief strike of the hammer against the bell, then the meaning and influence that our lives bear on those around us echoes on long after that original strike of the hammer. The Good News of our Scriptures is that in the ear of God, that ringing never stops. We are loved to the extent that we are resurrected into a new life in the presence of our Maker.
Imagine a Savior who loves us so much that he embraces us even if we are repulsive to the world around us. Imagine that he personally pulls every one of us out of our tombs of self-doubt and sin and death and into new life in the light. Imagine that God desires our fellowship like a great dinner host that gathers all at a common table. Can you see those pictures? You don’t have to imagine—because that is what God is—that is indeed what Christ has done for us, and that is the reality that we celebrate as we come to the table of communion.
Because the reverberations of life are still fresh in our ears, and we are shaped not only by those who are members of this congregation but also those whom we know in other walks of life, I would invite you to name aloud others who have passed away in the recent past after we name aloud those who have touched your lives as well.

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