First Reading Isaiah 25:6-9
Psalm Psalm 24
Second Reading Revelation 21:1-6a
Gospel John 11:32-44
“They shall receive a blessing from the Lord* and a just reward from the God of their salvation.” In the Name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
There is one in attendance at every funeral who is unwanted. If only this one would stay home, we would have no need for the funeral at all. The unwanted attendee is death. But this is death with a lower case “d”. Lower case death is fearful and pervasive, occupying the thoughts of the living. We attempt to cheat death and the adventurous tease death with death defying feats. Ultimately, lower case death will attend each of our funerals. The evidence is right there on the coroner’s report, though the cause of death does not change the outcome. Humanity spends much time, energy, and anxiety worrying over death. We always have. As a resurrection people, our focus is on life.
The prophet Isaiah offers a vision of the joyous banquet God has prepared for all peoples on his royal mountain. This banquet is prepared for ALL people. We are not responsible for vetting the guest list. Ours is not to judge. Ours is to love and commend all people to God. Ours is to seek reconciliation with God and each other through Jesus Christ. We understand this reconciliation as transforming in life, and continuing after death.
It was revealed to John that a new heaven and earth will replace all counterparts. God is participating in continued renewal of Creation in the image God intends. Barrels of ink have been spilt arguing whether the words of John’s revelation are literal, allegorical, or some figurative account promoting a moral purpose. Perhaps all these take the wrong approach. These words describe God’s reality, more incredible than humanity can imagine or comprehend. “Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away ... See, I am making all things new.”
Jesus reveals this transformation already underway. Faced with the death of his friend Lazarus and the grief of others, “Jesus began to weep.” Jesus is disturbed in spirit and deeply moved. A fully human Jesus experiences deeply human emotions, perhaps even facing his own humanity and his own impending death. Jesus has compassion, which at its root means, “with suffering.” It is in our compassion the world sees our love ... in our tears, in our soothing actions, in our willingness to abide, even suffer with others, in the darkest places. It is the light of Christ that washes over the world and removes every shadow of darkness. Even in the face of death, the world cannot deny, “See how he loved him!”
But God is making old things new and defeating death. “Take away the stone,” Jesus commands, as if foreshadowing his own triumph over Death. Capital “D” Death will have power over humanity no longer. Jesus very literally defeats Death ... “unbind him, and let him go.” Yes, unbind Lazarus’ burial cloths, unbind the decomposition and stench of death, but God unbinds even more. All of humanity is bound up with death. We live in the fear and trembling of death. Jesus unbinds us and sets us free!
We may read today’s Gospel and say, “If Jesus raising a man four days dead does not convince them, what will?” But we who read John’s Gospel are no less witnesses to the raising of Lazarus, compelled to face the choice to accept Jesus’ claims of messiah and savior, and accept the eternal life that Christ offers. Today, these words invite us to believe and to become witnesses to God’s glory.
When capital “D” Death shows up, we can look Death in the face, stare Death down, and say, “ Not this time. You are not invited to this celebration of life.” Death has been defeated and cast down by the love of God and the resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ! The alienation between God and humans is removed by God’s destruction of Death. God has trampled and defeated Death.
And so we celebrate the life of the Communion of Saints! We remember those we love but see no longer, and celebrate their life. We celebrate their life with us and their life eternal. We do not pray “to” the communion of saints, but with them. We understand that they are with us, praying for us, cheering us on, and supporting our lives, both now and eternal. If the veil could be lifted, we would see all those who have gone before, surrounding us at the banquet table, giving thanks and praise, saying, “Holy, holy, Holy Lord, God of power and might, heaven and earth are full of your glory.”
We are invited to vote in a worldly election this week, but we are all invited, all our lives, to vote in the cosmic campaign for life in Christ. Where you spend money is a vote for the what you value. Where you focus your attention is a vote for the world you hope for. Where you give time is a vote for the world you want. Our life is intended to be a vote for the already but not yet ... for the kingdom of God.
We are called to proclaim God’s victory over Death through the witness of our life. We do not proclaim defeat of capital “D” Death only at funerals or when we remember the dead. We are called to stand against death and darkness through our whole life. We are called to proclaim life!
“And he will destroy on this mountain the shroud that is cast over all peoples, the sheet that is spread over all nations; he will swallow up death forever. Then the Lord God will wipe away the tears from all faces, and the disgrace of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the Lord has spoken. It will be said on that day, Lo, this is our God; we have waited for him, so that he might save us. This is the Lord for whom we have waited; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.”