Isaiah 25:6-9 6On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines, of rich food filled with marrow, of well-aged wines strained clear. 7And he will destroy on this mountain the shroud that is cast over all peoples, the sheet that is spread over all nations; 8he 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. 9It 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.
Revelation 21:1-6a 1I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. 2And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. 3And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them; 4he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away.” 5And the one who was seated on the throne said, “See, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this, for these words are trustworthy and true.” 6aThen he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end.”
John 11:32-44 32When Mary came where Jesus was and saw him, she knelt at his feet and said to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” 33When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved. 34He said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” 35Jesus began to weep. 36So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” 37But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?” 38Then Jesus, again greatly disturbed, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone was lying against it. 39Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, “Lord, already there is a stench because he has been dead four days.” 40Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?” 41So they took away the stone. And Jesus looked upward and said, “Father, I thank you for having heard me. 42I knew that you always hear me, but I have said this for the sake of the crowd standing here, so that they may believe that you sent me.” 43When he had said this, he cried with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” 44The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.”
Grace to you and peace from God, our Father, and our Lord and savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Did you notice how tears happen in our three regular readings this morning? In Isaiah, the prophet promises that God will destroy the shroud of death, and wipe away the tears from all faces. In the book of the Revelation, John records that God will be with the people, and will wipe every tear from their eyes. Finally, in our Gospel story, everyone weeps, even Jesus.
People might disagree on the reason for Jesus’ tears. Some might argue from this translation that he never actually cried at all—that when people noticed he had begun to weep he stopped. Don’t go there. The original language is clear. Jesus wept. ἐδάκρυσεν ὁ Ἰησοῦς. Literal translation: Jesus shed tears.
The people of the story thought it was because Jesus loved Lazarus so much, that he couldn’t help but weep as they showed Jesus where they’d placed his dead body. I believe that’s a bit too shallow, even though weeping at the loss of a loved one is not shallow at all. What I mean is that Jesus was not weeping merely because the death of Lazarus was a personal loss to Jesus, even though it was. Jesus knew before he’d arrived that Lazarus had died. Jesus knew his own loss before he’d even begun the journey. Martha met him with an accusation in the verses prior to those we read this day. We hear nothing of her tears. But when she summoned Mary, and Mary utters the same words of accusation, we hear that Jesus sees her weeping. He sees the weeping of the Jews who had followed Mary from the house. He asks where the body has been laid, and is invited to come and see.
That’s when we are told Jesus weeps.
I believe Jesus weeps because he feels what we feel. Just like us, when he is surround by grieving people, he grieves not only his own loss, but the loss to the other grievers as well. He weeps for Mary’s grief, and for the grief of the Jews who may have hardly known Lazarus. He weeps for Martha’s grief, even if she might not have yet shed tears of her own.
Jesus knows he’ll be bringing Lazarus back to all these people. He knows they’ll be able to live their lives together again. He also knows that he himself will not be there in the same way with them for very much longer.
So it is not for Jesus’ own loss that he weeps, not merely because he had loved Lazarus, and Lazarus was now dead.
Last week, I had contacts from two different life insurance companies through whom I have policies. I’m fairly certain Lazarus had no such thing. Mary and Martha would not be receiving a check after Lazarus had died to help them to live without him. Later in this Gospel Jesus will ask from the cross where he is dying for a loving disciple to care for his mother, because he knows what the world is like. He knows that the tendency is for people to grab what they can get, rather than to help someone who is in need.
How many of those mourners were weeping because they could imagine themselves in the situation of Mary and Martha, possibly losing their home, because their brother had died?
We weep, Jesus weeps, because the world does not automatically reach out to us when we are in need with a helping hand. We weep, Jesus weeps, because it is often all too likely that the door will be closed in front of a needy person because we as people in the world don’t really know how to love like God loves.
Today, we celebrate a kind of life other than that to which Lazarus was raised up in today’s story. Today’s story demonstrates the power of God to give life with no electrical paddles to restart the heart, no respirator artificially pumping air into the lungs, and no drugs injected into the body. Jesus prayed, and called out with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” and Lazarus came out, alive, to live again with his sisters—a normal life.
The life we celebrate today, on All Saints’ Sunday, is a life from which there is no more dying, a resurrected life into the realm where doors no longer close in front of needy people—because there is no more need. All will finally know by experience how God loves, and how to love as God loves.
At the bedside of people who are dying, we sometimes notice the dying person questioning the presence of people we cannot see. Sometimes, they recognize them, and name them, and family members know that the people the dying person sees had long since died.
One of my pastor friends shared an observation that Lazarus, having likely experienced the resurrection into God’s heavenly kingdom before being called back to this world, never smiled again in his lifetime. I don’t agree with my friend, because as glorious as we believe heaven to be, and as incomparable as it must be, God also gives joys to us here, in this life. I believe Lazarus smiled again.
Sometimes, though, even joys bring tears.
It was not with joy that the people wept at the grave of Lazarus, at least not in the part of the story that we read. Those tears were of loss and sorrow. Maybe there were tears of joy with his return, but the story does not tell us that! The tears in the story are tears of sorrow.
It is those tears that God promises to wipe away. There will be no more sorrow over the loss of death, because in the resurrection death is no more. The prophet Isaiah tells us this. John’s vision says it again. Jesus promises to be the resurrection from death for us (again, in an earlier part of the story we didn’t read today).
Through all of it, through everything, God promises to be there with us, to comfort us in our sorrows, and to give us hope
As we live in the hope of God’s perfect future in the resurrection, let us not neglect the world in which we live today. Let us follow the calling we are given, to be the body of Christ, to be the love of God as well as we are able…
Today, in this world, in this country, we are inundated by political squabbling. One study I read yesterday claimed that the rants might seem like they come from the majority of the people—because that’s pretty much all that we hear. In actuality, the study claims, they come from about a third of the people of the country, pretty much evenly divided—about a sixth of the country at each extreme. The rest of us the study terms “The Exhausted Majority.” The study describes this group as fed up with the polarization, forgotten within the public discourse, flexible and willing to endorse different policies according to the situation, and faithful that we can find some common ground as people in this country.
If you are exhausted with the political squabbling we’re experiencing, don’t use it as an excuse to skip the voting this year. We do live in this world, and must do our best to better our community and our country in whatever ways we can. So get out there, vote your conscience by Tuesday (if you haven’t already). Then, whatever the election results turn out to be, continue to live God’s love in this world, let God share your joys and comfort you in your sorrows. Let God take care of any tears that fill our eyes, as we join the feast with all the saints. In Jesus’ name. Amen