Posted by on November 12, 2018

All Saints. 2018. Yr B. Rev 21: 1 – 6a.  Jn 11: 32-44 

You will have noted that today we are celebrating “All Saints” and not “All  Souls.  The reason is that Kenneth thinks it is more important to concentrate  on the older and more important celebration of ALL the Saints, known and  unknown, and thank God for them.  As Saint Paul makes clear, we Christians  are ​all​ saints. We are the building blocks of the Church, as Charles reminded  me at St Michael’s last week.  It isn’t that one has to be especially holy, or  especially dead.   All Saints Day has been kept as a special Christian  celebration since at least the 4​th​ Cent. It was originally the Sunday following  Pentecost – and it still is the the Eastern Orthodox tradition.  It took a bit  longer to take firm root in the Western Church; not until the 7​th​ Century in  Rome and then it was observed on the 13​th​ May. It moved to 1st  November  on the order of Pope Gregory III.  He died in 741AD.

All SOULS Day / the day for the commemoration of the souls of the faithful  departed is always on 2​nd​ November.  It only came into universal observance  under the influence of the great Benedictine monk and abbott, Odilo of Cluny  in 998AD.  He commanded its annual celebration at all Benedictine houses  of his congregation, and the idea spread.  It was the day on which the Mass  included the great Christian canticle ​Dies Irae.  ​Day of wrath.  Day of anger.

And here is my “way in” to this sermon.  Jesus raises Lazarus in today’s  gospel passage from St John. Very appropriate, of course, for All Saints, All  Souls.  But the rather anodyne translation we are given for the 33​rd​ verse of  our gospel passage: ​When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came also with her weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved.​]

[​Childwick​​: ​When Jesus saw her [Mary] weeping and the Jews who came with her weeping he was deeply moved in spirit and greatly troubled.​] 

From the Greek word used for “deeply moved” the commentators ​all​ make  the point that he was filled with anger of the “nostrils flared” variety. At the very least the word conveys ​deep​ resentment.

But what at?  Where was this anger directed?  Was it the ​un​belief of the  Jews in the possibility of resurrection? Their belief in the finality of death?  Was it Jesus’ anger at the existence of evil that causes sickness / death and grief?

There are nuances in the original Greek that lead me to regret not studying  the language.  But not sufficient regret at this stage in the proceedings to do  anything about it. Sorry Phillip.

We are told that Jesus: ​cried with a loud voice ​[v43].  He SHOUTED to  Lazarus:  ​Lazarus: Come out​.  The only other time the same Greek word for  shouted​ is used is for the crowd shouting to Pilate that they wanted  Barabbas over Jesus.  So here in this gospel of St John the same word is  used once to ​bring​ Lazarus from death to life, and once to ​send​ Jesus from life to his earthly death.

It’s not just that there are nuances in the use of a word the raising of Lazarus  itself​ is a sort of a double symbol.  First: it anticipates the resurrection of  Jesus.  And second / let’s not forget: it anticipates the resurrection of  believers.  ​All​ the saints.

As with Jesus, Lazarus was sealed in a tomb, by a stone, bound with strips of cloth, anointed with oils and spice.  Like Jesus, the cloth that wrapped  Lazarus’s head is mentioned separately: ​and his face wrapped in a cloth. [v44b].  But… ​UN​like Jesus, Lazarus came forth from the tomb ​still​ with the  cloths that bound his hands and feet.

This was to show that he had risen through the power of another, and would  in due course die once more.  Contrast that with Jesus that first Easter  morning.  ​He​ left his grave cloths behind, because he rose by his own power  and would have no further need of them.  As St Paul tells us in his Letter to  the Romans: ​death has no more dominion over him. ​[Rom 6:9].

The miracle of Lazarus was and ​is​ a sign for ​all​ believers, ​all​ the saints of the  hope of their, and our, resurrection on the Last Day.  This is made clear at  the start of the Lazarus story where Lazarus’s sickness and death are said to  be to the glory of God.​ ​Verse 4. [Jesus said] ​this illness does not lead to  death; rather it is for God’s glory, so that the Son of Man may be glorified  through it.  ​[​Childwick: ​​this illness is not unto death / it is for the glory of God…​]​ ​And that is why Jesus said aloud that strange prayer at the tomb. Not  for his own benefit, because he and the Father were one; but for the benefit  of those around, so they could hear,  and learn.

Lazarus stands for all of us.  Jesus gave him life, and will give it to us.  As  Jesus tells Mary, and us, seven verses before the start of tonight’s reading:  I AM the resurrection and the life.  Those who believe in me, even though  they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.  [​Childwick: ​​I AM the resurrection and the life.   He who believes in me / though he die / yet shall he live / and whoever lives and believes in me shall never die. ​]​  ​[Jn 11: 25]. Powerful stuff.

So what does this mean today?  Lazarus – and the widow’s son at Nain, like  Jairus’s daughter, were resuscitated but would die again. They were not  resurrected in the true Christian sense of the word.  To be resurrected is no  longer to be constrained by death or the limitations of the body.

So whether we see the Lazarus story as historically true – or not, it is still  only a pre-figuring of the resurrection that really matters, that of Jesus, – and  our own.  As St Paul puts it: ​We shall not all die but we ​shall​ be changed.  [1Cor 15:51].   Eternal life is a completely different mode of existence. It’s a lot to get one’s head round.

Paul’s conviction of the reality of the resurrection led him to tell the  Thessalonians: ​not to grieve as others do who have no hope.​ [1Thess 4:13].

But note that he didn’t tell them not to grieve at all.  Even when one knows  that separation will be temporary, if it is separation from those we love, then  it will hurt.  And boy, does it!  Loss of a spouse: not recommended.  Services  of remembrance held at this season are therefore all the more important in  the life of those who feel that separation most keenly.  The compassion  shown by Jesus, and his extreme grief and anger at the death of Lazarus  show that it is quite appropriate to grieve. It doesn’t  demonstrate lack of  faith in the Christian message.


When we lose someone who is more dear to us that we can say, or when the  time comes for ​us​ to look death in the face, there will be more comfort for us in a friend or lover to grieve ​with​ us than there will be from one who simply  exhorts us to have faith and be brave.   My elder son Tom told me he did HIS  grieving for his mum while she was dying rather than after she had died.  And there is infinitely more comfort in God, our God, who does the same.  AMEN.

Posted in: John Hayton, Sermons