For All the Saints (All Saints Sunday)
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There are some losses we can’t fathom…
And then, suddenly, we can’t help but see or hear or feel them.
Death is this way. It lurks in the shadows, creeping quietly, until abruptly we are face to face with it and it surrounds us.
Until a week ago, we couldn’t fathom that eleven Jews would be gunned down by an anti-Semite with an assault rifle.
And now, the sting of death lies hot, swollen, and harsh under our flesh.
And we weep with and for our Jewish siblings.
Death is this way, creating its own kind of unwelcome presence and persistence.
Of course, these aren’t the only deaths that have occurred in the past weeks. Daily we are peppered with stories from around the globe of those languishing in Syria; millions starving to death in Yemen and Madagascar; and senseless racial and cultural murders – too many to count.
In the midst of life, we are in death. Death is everywhere: across the world, around the block, down the hallway. Some days it’s hard to fathom and some days it’s all we can see. It would be unfaithful for me to not voice the painful reality of being human: Death has its way and say before it should, before we are ready, before the graves are prepared.
Death, of course, is universal, but it’s also so very personal, whispering words we can’t unhear, living in moments we can’t unlive, and somehow suspending gravity and forcing us to our knees. Death always seems to be accompanied by the words, “But just yesterday I was…”.
Just yesterday, I was riding in his beat-up orange Chevrolet, marveling at the stories he’d tell.
Just yesterday, we were gathered round the table, laughing until we were crying at a stupid joke.
Just yesterday, she was delighted as she danced with her shadow in the living room.
And now, there is only today and tomorrow and they will never be the same as yesterday.
Death is this way: everything makes us think of them.
Our sweet memories become tinged with sadness and dreams lie unrealized.
Jesus’s willingness, or maybe his inability to do anything other than weep at the grave of his friend Lazarus, honors the truth that things will never be the same.
I love Jesus for so many reasons… but I adore his humanity. I’m grateful that he eats with his friends, that he is witty and sarcastic, that he learns as he goes. But, Lord in heaven, I love that he weeps.
Those are two words I understand: Jesus weeps.
In this story, heartache and loss take hold of him and break him down. Grief brings the Lord of the universe to his knees. At the grave, with his friends, he weeps. Cries with them, for them, and… for himself.
Even though Jesus knows the deeper truth, that even in the midst of death, we are promised new life, he doesn’t brush their or his sorrow aside with a quick pat on the back and a ‘there, there it’ll be alright.’ No. For this moment he sits with his grief, remembering his friend, and feeling the sting of death.
One of the things that is bewildering in this story is how Jesus chooses to comfort Martha so very personally in her pain, but he didn’t do the one thing she wanted in the first place: which was save her from the pain to start with. I don’t know why exactly, but I do know that grief and pain are like joy and hope, like life and death – they live together holding a certain holiness.
Jesus does the only things that can be done during moments such as these:
And offer relief from this fear: I have been left alone.
I can’t help but wonder if this wasn’t one of those pivotal moments for Jesus, one which emboldened him as he made his way to the cross. Because Jesus experiences the devastation of death, he appreciates the sacredness of life with new resolve. Not just Lazarus’s life or Martha’s life, but all of humanity’s.
Because life is this way: Jesus’s breaking leads to his fullness; his crucifixion leads to his resurrection. And ours. New life rises up from the ashes of ‘just yesterday’ to create new ‘tomorrows.’
Your newborn nephew’s eyes look at you with the intensity and wonder of your mother, and you realize her life lives on – in him and in you.
The only time you remember Dad participating in a worship service was when ‘Amazing Grace’ was sung, and his presence surrounds you as the piano intones those first few notes.
New medicinal possibilities arise, granting hope to others because of devastating diagnoses.
Because life is this way. Everything makes us think of them. Everything makes us want to honor them. Everything makes us want their lives to not be in vain.
And the promise of life eternal is this way –
Someday, which is another way of saying, ‘maybe tomorrow will hold this:’
The Lord God will wipe away all tears. Despair and death will be no more.
In Jesus there is nothing that can separate us from life, no matter how hard death rails.
Bodies will be unbound from all that seeks to destroy it and they will be free.
Which may sound unfathomable, but in Jesus it has been made true. Because, like Martha and all at the grave that day, once you see him, and hear him, and feel him…
You can hardly do anything else, but cry out the two words which grant us hope: Unbind us. Unbind us from our grave clothes, dear Lord.