This is the Sunday that many call All Saints Sunday. All Saints Day is always on November 1st, or last Monday this year. It is the day that we remember those believers who have gone before us, especially those saints who influenced our spiritual growth.
So, who are “saints”? In the early Christian (Roman Catholic) church, those who were martyred for their faith had always been venerated. Beginning in 993, the Pope canonized the first saint. For Roman Catholics, the “saints” are those models of faith who have been officially canonized by the church fathers. But St. Paul used this word about 950 years earlier to describe the followers of Jesus. He opens many of his letters with the words “to all the saints at…” (See the beginning verses of 1 & 2 Corinthians, Ephesians, Philippians, and Colossians.) So, long before the church used the term for designated individuals, Paul used it to describe all believers.
The word “saint” in many languages simply means “holy”. If we believe in Jesus, we are saints. We are holy.
It is believed that these words were written to the exiles who were returning to Judah from Babylonian captivity.
- God is preparing a banquet on a mountaintop for his people. Only the best will do—good wine and rich food. It’s party time! (v. 6)
- Better yet, He is going to eliminate death forever! The shroud and sheet are the funeral garments for the deceased. (v. 7)
- God will eliminate sorrow and disgrace from His people. (v. 8)
- The conclusion is that even though they waited a long time for their salvation, it was worth the wait. (v. 9)
Have you ever hosted a party or banquet for a loved one? Or, have you ever been treated to a party held in your honor? A party or banquet is a great way to express our love for others. This is the image that God is presenting to us. He wants to rejoice in our being free from death. Let’s party!
Some read the book of Revelation as a foreboding prophecy of the dreadful times to come. My understanding of this strange book is that it was a word of comfort and assurance from God to Christians suffering for their faith. The book is full of wild and strange imagery, but the point is clearly made— Evil has it’s day, but in the end, God destroys evil. Today’s bible passage comes from the conclusion of this story. In this reading, John has had a vision of the total destruction of evil. This is the happy ending.
- John sees a completely new creation—a new heaven and earth. To Jewish Christians of the time, the sea represented (and contained) evil things. That is why there is no sea in God’s new creation. (v. 1)
- Flowing down from God is the New Jerusalem. The early church was considered the “New Jerusalem”. This church-city is a bride, all dressed up for her “husband” Jesus. The image is not a new one. But let’s think about it. Back then, marriage was a little different than today. It was less about romance than duty and responsibility. Husbands were to love, protect, and provide for their wives. Wives were to love, serve, and obey their husbands. (See Ephesians 5:22-32 for a perfect example.) Jesus provided for our well-being when he died on the cross for us. We are now to serve him, and obey his commandments. (v. 2)
- God then speaks from the throne. He declares that he will live among us. He will wipe away our tears, and death will be no more. Sounds like the passage from Isaiah, Maybe it is at this time that God will finally enact his vision. (v. 3)
- He tells John to write this down, because His words are trustworthy and true. He says that he is the Alpha and Omega. These are the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet. In English, we should say that God said that he is A to Z! The beginning and end. (v. 6a)
- For those who thirst, spiritually, God provides the water of life. (v. 6b)
The meaning of this passage is the same for me as it was for those first-century Christians. Crazy politicians may appear to be taking us and our nation to the brink of destruction. But God is real, and God has a plan. In the end, He will set things straight, and make things new and good again. Best of all, there will be no more tears. No more sorrow. No more death. A happy ending is headed our way!
The lectionary has chosen only the last part of this long story, the resurrection of Lazarus, verses 32-44. The whole story is too long to read in church on Sunday. But we’ll look at the whole story, to gain a better understanding of everything that goes on here.
Prior to this story, Jesus and his disciples have travelled to the other side of the Jordan River, where John the Baptist had done much of his work. They were way out in the boondocks.
- Jesus is good friends with Lazarus and his sisters. Lazarus is ill, and the sisters send word of this to Jesus. (vv. 1-3)
- Jesus does not go there right away. Instead, he stays two days longer! Verse 4b hints at the reason. (vv. 4-6)
- After intentionally dragging his feet, he tells the disciples they’re going to Bethany. They are surprised that he would want to go to a place where they want to kill him. But Jesus is resolute—he is on a mission. (vv. 7-10)
- Next, Jesus uses a euphemism to describe Lazarus’ condition. The disciples misunderstand. Jesus makes it clear that he knows that Lazarus is dead. Another hint to his motives appears in verse 15. Our Thomas is his typical self, making strange comments. (vv 11-16)
- Jesus arrives four days after Lazarus’ death. Martha comes to greet him. Was there frustration or anger in her voice in verse 21? (vv. 17-21)
- They discuss the resurrection of the body. Jesus makes a key statement in verse 25. Martha puts her faith and trust in him. (vv. 22-27)
- Martha runs home to fetch Mary, while Jesus and his retinue are still on their way there. In verse 32, Mary tells Jesus the same thing that Martha said earlier. Again—was there frustration or anger? (vv. 28-32)
- Jesus is moved by the intense emotion of the situation. Mary weeps. Jesus weeps. Onlookers are astonished, and offer criticism. (vv. 33-37)
- Jesus orders the stone of the tomb rolled away, in spite of the fact that Lazarus died four days ago. (vv. 38-39)
- Jesus tells Martha to expect the glory of God. Jesus prays aloud for all to hear. His purpose is clear in verse 42b. (vv. 40-42)
- Jesus speaks, and Lazarus staggers from the tomb. Jesus orders the onlookers to care for him. (vv. 43-44)
I have some questions that I’ve been pondering about this text. I’ll share them with you, and share my answers, too. Normally, my writing is built upon the writings of good Lutheran theologians. In this case, I’m using my own logic, so take that for what it’s worth.
Why did Jesus dilly-dally, and not rush to Lazarus’ bedside? I believe that Lazarus’ resurrection was part of God’s plan to demonstrate Jesus’ divine power. Even Martha thought that reviving Lazarus after four days was unthinkable.
Were Martha and Mary angry with Jesus? Maybe. They were at least frustrated and confused. They clearly sent word in time for Jesus to come and heal Lazarus. But Jesus took his time. Wouldn’t you be angry?
Why did Jesus cry at the tomb? Was it in sympathy for Mary and Martha? Did he miss Lazarus? But he knew what he was going to do—bring him back to life. Maybe he was sad for Lazarus. Jesus would have known that Lazarus was in a much better place. Jesus was about to yank him back to Bethany, and out of Paradise. Jesus loved Lazarus. Maybe he was sad for what he was going to put Lazarus through.
Then, why did Jesus do this? Jesus is about to enter Jerusalem, and never return. It is time for him to make it crystal clear to all that he is the Son of God. Look at these verses:
Verse 4b: “…rather, it is for God’s glory, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.”
Verse 15: “For your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe.”
Verse 26a: “and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.”
Verse 42b: “… I have said this for the sake of the crowd standing here, so that they may believe that you sent me.”
Jesus is the resurrection and the life. By believing in him, we too are saints. We are holy. We have eternal life. Thanks be to God!