Revelation 21: 1-6a
John 11: 32-44
It was All Saints' Day on Thursday and I heard on the radio a short piece by The Rev Richard Coles, who is a broadcaster and who has written a book called the Lives of the Improbable Saints. In the broadcast he outlined the roles of some of the less famous saints and described how to pray to the patron saint of car parking, Mother Cabrini: "Mother Cabrini, Mother Cabrini, please find a space for my parking machinery."
I can see you’re not a bit convinced. So what is the point of saints?
I love the description from the US theologian and writer, Frederick Buechner “In his holy flirtation with the world, God occasionally drops a handkerchief. These handkerchiefs are called saints.”.
The image Buechner is conjouring up is of the young woman, trying to catch the eye of the young man, who ‘accidently’ drops a handkerchief so that he can pick it up and engage her in conversation.
God wants us to know that his love and concern are here in the world, and so he drops handkerchiefs – the saints.
I think this applies to all God’s saints, not just the official ones. Each life lived walking in God’s way becomes a sign to the rest of us that God is there. So part of what we do to celebrate All Saints Day is to give thanks to God for all those people who have acted as “God’s handerchiefs” for us – who have allowed us a glimpse of God’s will and God’s love for God’s world.
We might also, today, ask God to help us to be more like “God’s handerchiefs” for others: more loving, more caring, more holy in our lives, so that when others see us they are given a glimpse of God’s love in action.
The problem with this sort of exhortation to be more loving is that there are times in our lives when we just can’t – when we’re bruised, broken or just plain exhausted. Times when the last thing we feel able to do is be a sign of Good News to anybody.
On Tuesday evening we held the annual memorial service at Whittlesford: when we invite the families of all those for whom we’ve conducted funerals in all 3 villages, in the last year. We deliberately do this at this time of year – near to All Saints’ Day, and near to Remembrance Sunday. People come to remember their loved ones and I hope they find a place where there is comfort and peace: the service tries to give a sense of assurance that in all our weeping, God is present to help us, and that as it says in the Wisdom of Solomon “The souls of the righteous are in the hand of God”.
What strikes me is the way in which at that service, having heard God’s word and reflected on God’s strength, the families there seem able to support one another – there is a sense of real fellowship and care.
So where does this ability to care, even when we are at the end of our resources, come from?
Our readings each make it clear that it is God who dries our tears.
In the book of Revelation the promise is given that at the end of time God will fold all things back to himself – “Death will be no more;
mourning and crying and pain will be no more”
God himself will be with them and he will wipe all tears from their eyes.
This is the sort of promise that gives us hope – for our loved ones and for ourselves. God never abandons us to our pain, but will care for us himself.
In our gospel reading, Jesus is moved by the tears of those who have loved and lost Lazarus. Mary is weeping, those with her are weeping, and Jesus himself is deeply moved by their pain. In Jesus we see God alongside us, not aloof from us, sharing in the human misery that is grief and loss.
And Jesus doesn’t just tell Mary & Martha to cope with their pain and to try harder to be signs of God’s presence to those around them. Jesus reaches out to them and shows them that God’s power will bring Lazarus back to life.
To demonstrate God’s power, Jesus does it there and then, but there is strength here for each one of us, that God’s love will not allow death to have the last word – not in the life of Lazarus, not in the life of Jesus, and not in the lives of all those we know.
Death will end, Tears will end. God will vanquish death and care for us forever.
Perhaps we feel to have come a long way from the Saints as God’s handkerchiefs. But our Bible readings remind us that important though the saints might be in helping us to glimpse God’s love in the world, they are nothing without the power of God.
In the end it is God’s love which is revealed in the lives of the saints, it is through God's power that they can be the signs of Good News that they are.
And it is God’s love which comes to us today, to heal our brokenness, to dry our tears, to feed us in this bread & wine & to enable us to be signs of God’s love in the world.
To God’s praise and glory.