St. Philip Lutheran Church
7 November 2021 + All Saints
Rev. Josh Evans
I’m not sure what it says about me that two of my favorite days on the church calendar have to do with death.
First, there’s Ash Wednesday, where we are honest about our human condition, our sin, our brokenness, our frailty … marking our foreheads with ashes and proclaiming that we are dust.
Then today, there’s All Saints, where we remember the saints of the church and the saints of our own lives, particularly those who have died in the past year. At St. Philip, we read their names out loud and sing our refrain: All of us go down to the dust… Other churches and traditions light candles, ring bells, or even assemble altars with photographs of departed loved ones.
From an outside perspective, if all you knew of the Christian liturgical calendar were these two days, you might think ours was an especially dismal and morbid religion.
And yet, what I love about these days is the refreshing honesty … as we confront our human frailty and the reality and inevitability of death head-on. That’s not exactly a wildly popular move in our culture that tries to avoid both. Maybe that’s what makes grief so hard.
And maybe therein lies the gift of this day … allowing us to name our losses and our grief and to experience healing and hope even in those moments.
And then, a children’s message/story time interlude…
This simple story names what we hold at the heart of this day: Grief is complicated, and it looks different for everyone.
… whether we remember our loved ones who have died in the past year, or whether we remember the now over 5 million people around the world who have died from COVID-19 – parents, grandparents, children, friends, neighbors, co-workers. Even for those of us whose lives haven’t been directly touched by loss this past year, still we live with the reality of those who are close to us who are sick or just getting older.
In confronting our losses and naming our grief, we experience healing and hope. The rabbit didn’t force Taylor to grieve in a particular way or on a specific timeline, but the rabbit’s silent presence – just being there – helped Taylor to experience a range of feelings on their own time and in their own way … until Taylor was able to make plans to build again … not ignoring the loss, or trying to remember and fix things exactly as they were before … but doing something new entirely.
From loss and grief emerge healing and hope.
This year’s readings for All Saints, as the text on the front of our bulletin points out, have the most tears. In the gospel, even Jesus weeps with those who weep. While we barely get half the story today, the “raising of Lazarus,” as it’s often called, fills the first 44 verses of John 11 … even though only the last two have to do with Lazarus coming back to life. This isn’t so much a story about the raising of Lazarus as it is about the death of Lazarus – and the loss and grief of the community.
The real power of the story for me lies in what comes before: First, Martha and Mary weep. They grieve that Jesus didn’t come sooner. Their religious community joins their grief and weeps with them. And Jesus, seeing all this, becomes “greatly disturbed and deeply moved.” Jesus, too, begins to weep.
This is a community collectively gathered to weep and to mourn their brother Lazarus’s death because grief is not a thing that has to happen alone.
Like the solidarity of the rabbit who listened and offered Taylor its silent and patient presence … like the ever-expanding circle of those who gathered with Martha and Mary to weep at the tomb of Lazarus … like our own gathered assembly this Sunday and every Sunday … we remember that we do not grieve alone, we do not weep alone, we do not journey through life alone.
From loss and grief, held in community, emerge healing and hope.
That is the core of this day, one of my favorites on our liturgical calendar – a day that acknowledges the reality of death … but doesn’t end there.
Today we remember our mortality … and more. We pause and we reflect on the saints who have died. We draw strength from the witness of their lives, and we draw strength from those who still surround us in the flesh.
And ultimately, we draw strength from our Savior Jesus who at once pauses to weep with us, greatly disturbed and deeply moved by grief … and: who also promises that he is the resurrection and the life.
Thanks be to God.