Saturday, 31 October 2009

All Saints' Day 1st Nov 09

Revelation 21: 1-6a
John 11: 32-44

On first hearing, today’s readings for All Saints Day might seem to be about the rewards which are waiting for God’s saints.

The story of Lazarus, raised from the tomb by Jesus after 4 days, is an extraordinary one. Lazarus is a friend of Jesus, who is moved to hear of Lazarus’s death. His subsequent rising is a source of great joy to his sisters, and perhaps a sign of how much Jesus loved him. You could say that the story illustrates the resurrection which awaits all the friends of Jesus…they will not be allowed to lie forgotten and decaying in the grave.

I am reminded of the story of St Cuthbert – one of the Celtic saints of Iona. He had been dead and buried for nearly 200 years, and was greatly revered both in life and in death as a great man and a saint, when there was a danger of Viking attack on the Island of Lindisfarne. In order to prevent his body from falling into the hands of the Vikings, the monks of Lindisfarne exhumed Cuthbert’s body, only to find that it was uncorrupted, in a remarkable state of preservation. Stories such as this are relatively common among stories of the saints – perhaps because people believe this is an illustration of how special and how blessed they are.

But I think there has to be more to it than this.
Surely Jesus is offering more than the reward of life for those who are especially good?
In the story of Lazarus. Jesus himself says to Martha ‘Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?’.
The raising of Lazarus is not just some kind of reward by Jesus for his friend, to help him to cheat death for a little while, it is a sign of God’s ultimate will, of God’s rule and purpose.
Lazarus being raised after a number of days is a foretaste of the raising of Jesus after 3 days in the tomb, which itself is just a foretaste of eternal life for all people when, as the book of Revelation describes it, there will be no more death, mourning, crying or pain.

It is God’s will that all people will know his presence : the voice in the account in Revelation declares ‘See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them as their God; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them’. Ultimately God’s rule will come, once and for all, and all things will find their home in him… but in the meantime we are given glimpses of that perfect kingdom of God.

The raising of Lazarus is one of these glimpses.

The life and death and resurrection of Jesus is of course the greatest and longest sign of the kingdom of God.

And I believe that as we celebrate All Saints Day we would do well to give thanks to God for those saints who give us other glimpses of the kingdom.
The ones who declare God’s love, fight for God’s truth, struggle for God’s justice, display God’s peace, and light up with God’s joy… In all these saints – whether the formal ones or the people we have known ourselves – we see glimpses of Gods great rule and God’s wonderful future.

We meet around the table of the Lord – where another foretaste or glimpse of the kingdom is set before us. In this bread and wine we receive the very life of Jesus Christ, given for us.

Strengthened by this foretaste, we commit ourselves to celebrating the saints and looking for the kingdom they allow us to glimpse.

But more than that, we are challenged to allow this communion meal to change and strengthen us so that we, too, may be saints to others: showing in our lives and our words glimpses of the love, joy, peace and justice of the kingdom of God.

So may God feed us hear and use is in the world to share the Good News with all we meet, so that God’s purposes may be fulfilled,
In the name of Jesus Christ.
Amen.

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