All Saints’ Day 2021

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Isaiah 25:6-9; Revelation 21:1-6a; and John 11:32-44

The Rev’d Nathan de Senna

We humans are story tellers.

Across history and cultures it’s something that is almost in our human nature.
We tell stories of where we’ve come from. Stories tell us something about ourselves….

Our place in the world – our identity – who we are… and… where we are going… what our future holds…

But perhaps stories of origin are more common – come more naturally – than stories of destination.

Naturally it’s easier to know the past than it is to know the future.

But I want to suggest that both our past and our future play a role in us knowing our place in the world… knowing our identity.

Today is All Saints Day.

A day where traditionally the church turns its attention – for a day – to the Saints that have gone before us.

Saints whose lives have been witnesses to a hope rooted in the gospel that proclaims God’s victory over death.

It’s because of this that we have this reading from John in the lectionary. The story of Lazarus dying… Jesus bringing him to life…

In the preceding part of the story we hear that Jesus is told that Lazarus is seriously ill. Now most of us would drop things and head over to Lazarus to see what we could do to help. But we are told that Jesus stayed put – at the place where he was – for two extra days.

It’s no wonder that we start today’s gospel reading then with Mary kneeling at Jesus’ feet saying “if only you had been here my brother would not have died.”

Others were clearly thinking and saying the same thing, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?”

Which gets to the heart of John’s purpose for telling us this story.

I always wondered what the point of resurrecting Lazarus was – given that we know he would eventually go on to die again at some stage… Of course for Lazarus’ family – having extra time with him was something they treasured. But in the end death comes to us all. And for this we see Jesus weeping.

Weeping for the present loss and grief of Mary and Martha – but also for the loss all of us feel at the loss of a loved one.

But for John this isn’t the end of the story.

For John – this miracle is less about Lazarus’ resurrection but rather telling us that God working through Jesus has power over death.

Death doesn’t have the last word in our story.

Death is no longer the end of life.

So what is at the end of our story?

We see in today’s readings of the prophet Isaiah and Revelation a vision of what is our future.

In rich – festive language – they’re trying to say that our story ends with – our ultimate destination is… God.

In fact the whole Biblical story is one of us coming from God and heading towards God.

One commentator noted how this reminds me of the line in T.S. Eliot’s poem “Four Quartets” –“In my end is my beginning.”

How this will look – is part of the greater mystery of our faith – but that we will be with God means that our future will be very good indeed.

It’s worth reading through and reflecting on the passages from Isaiah and Revelation in the coming days. They are there to encourage us on our journey.

And so we come back to All Saints.

Saints are also for our encouragement. We look to people who inspire us in our faith. To see how they struggle with their lives – with their faith – how through life’s difficulties – they found hope – strength – found that God was with them.

But here’s the catch… all believers are saints.

Often we use the title “saint” as something we need to earn or work for – OR – for someone who is especially good or strong in their faith.

But the Biblical story tells is that every Christian is a saint by the grace of God.

And so we celebrate today all those people – known and unknown – who have played a part in our Christian journey.

Let us give thanks for their witness in our lives. For those times when they showed us something of the love and beauty of God.