“Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” Mary’s words, her lament, rings true in our hears. When someone we love dies, the human side of us often wants to ask why and to rail at the unfairness of it all... And sometimes it is unfair from our point of view. But what we consider a tragedy for our own personal life, the Lord considers a victory. From his viewpoint, it is a victory over death - Our loved one has made that transition to the plane where we are intended to spend our real life - eternity.
In today’s lesson, Jesus does two things to take the focus off of himself: He prays to God and he allows the people around him to hear his prayer so that they will understand that it is God who raised Lazarus from the dead. The second thing he does is to allow the people standing around to have a part in this raising of Lazarus. He has them roll away the stone and then he has them unbind Lazarus.
This act is as important as, and a reminder of, creation. Jesus speaks the word, he calls Lazarus out of the tomb, and Lazarus comes forth. Lazarus comes from the darkness of the tomb, from the abyss, into the light that shine in the world. Out of darkness, God brings light. Out of death, God brings life - abundant life.
Our lessons today have a delightful way of working together. Our first lesson from the Wisdom of Solomon is an apocryphal reading, written during that 200 years before the birth of Christ. In the Old Testament, you can read several stories of faithful servants of God who were taken up into heaven without tasting death. But you will notice that God’s promises to Abraham (descendants and land and cattle) have to do with what happens here on earth, without mention of any sort of afterlife. This idea of an afterlife is being presented here in our lesson from Wisdom. This is where the idea of eternal life begins to emerge. “The Souls of the Righteous are in the hand of God.”
It talks about the traditional view of death - “In the eyes of the foolish they seemed to have died, and their departure was thought to be a disaster, and their going from us to be their destruction...” That is the way a lot of the world sees death - final and decisive.
But our lesson goes on, “But they are at peace, their hope is full of immortality, they will receive a great good, because God tested them and found them worthy of himself...” It says here that “Those who trust in God will understand truth - AND the faithful will abide with him in love - FOR he watches over his elect.” (According to my commentary, this was written about 50 years before the birth of Christ and therefore not dependent on him.) The Book of Wisdom tells us that being made in the image of God includes sharing with him in immortality - the Godly, the ethical will be granted eternal life.
Next we have Psalm 24, still in the Old Testament, talking about what it takes to ascend the hill of the Lord. I’ve been attending a Bible Study in Alvin that focuses on the relationship between heaven and earth, especially as understood in the Old Testament. The word we translate as heaven can mean either the sky, or that place where God resides - so from earliest times God was believed to be off in the sky somewhere. Therefore the people would go to the high places - on hilltops - mountaintops to be near God. Moses met God on Mount Sinai. Elijah went to the mountaintop to meet God. Temples were placed on the highest point in any area so as to be close to God. Even this place were we are meeting today, Temple Sinai, was named to denote the desire to be close to God. It has always been man’s desire to be near God - Even the Tower of Babel was a plan to try to draw near God.
But here’s the grace - in our Gospel lesson, Jesus demonstrates God power to be present here on earth - by raising Lazarus from the dead. God now resides among his people - here on earth, right now - not in some far-off heaven or some future time. God’s saving grace and desire to be among his people is demonstrated in this act of mercy.
And this idea of God’s desire to be here with us is reinforced in our lesson from Revelation. Did you notice that it said the new Jerusalem, the Holy City was coming out of heaven? God’s desire is that heaven and earth to be together and he wants his home to be among us. Do you remember in the beginning God walked on earth in the Garden of Eden and talked to Adam and Eve. It was a place where they could be together and interact. And ever since our fall from grace, God has been trying to find a way to regain that relationship, that friendship with us.
Today is known as All Saints Day – my favorite hymn talks about the Saints of God. It really reflects Paul notion of ‘saints.’ Paul used the word ‘saint’ to speak of the believers who were being saved: Everyday people who lived their lives for Jesus Christ. One was a doctor, one was a queen, one was a shepherdess on the green – and all of them saints of God and I mean – God helping to be one too. One was a soldier, one was a priest, one was slain – and there’s not any reason why we shouldn’t be one too.
They didn’t just live in the past – they are alive today and all around – they are the ones who love to do Jesus’ will. And you can meet them in school or on the road, swimming or sailing, in church or on trains or planes, even at Wal-Mart or Starbucks, because the saints of God are just like us. Each time we choose to be merciful, each time we extend a kindness, each time we share compassion, we grow in grace and in stature on our way to becoming Saints of God.