All Saints’ Sunday
November 4, 2012
Revelation 21:1-6, and John 11: 32-44
In Southern California many of the street trees on the west side of LA are jacaranda trees. They were my Mother’s favorite. Just after her birthday at the end of April and just before her wedding anniversary in mid-May, the streets around her house would burst into clouds of purple flowers. One year, as we were driving down her street admiring the great wash of purple blooms, she said, “I think the streets in heaven must be lined with jacaranda trees.” She died on her wedding anniversary in 2003, and the jacarandas were in bloom everywhere.
I think of this every time I see this reading from Revelation. When it says “adorned as a bride,” I think of those elegant, graceful trees, and of the promise that at the end of it all, there will be no more separation, no loss, no mourning, no tears. I always add the reading from Chapter 22 to the picture I imagine: about the river of the water of life, bright as crystal flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb, through the middle of the city, with the tree of life on either side, with leaves for the healing of the nations. The end of my mother’s life was miserable, and it is a great comfort to me to know that she is safe from all the pain and loss that was her reality at the end of life.
The imagery of Revelation is so powerful, and it has been used so often to terrify people with predictions of suffering and loss. It has been used to scare people that they may not be good enough to be included in God’s glory. They have been encouraged to think that only a few select people will be whisked off into paradise while the rest of us are left behind to suffer.
This reading is a great comfort because it goes beyond that scenario to tell us that at the end of it all, God will come to dwell with us in a new heaven and a new earth right here. God will come to us to accomplish the perfection that God has promised. “He will dwell with them, they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them.”
You can believe it, and all that it implies, because you know that God has already come to be with us as Jesus. So we are already living in the age that is coming, even as we live in a world in which evil still has the power to rip into our lives with pain and suffering. You can trust that the imagery you have before you today calls you into a future that is already redeemed and ready for you to enjoy.
The story of Lazarus is also a tale with great imagery. Close your eyes for a minute: imagine the crowds surrounding the sisters as they grieve, wailing and weeping. Imagine Mary kneeling at Jesus’ feet, and his own tears as he raises her up. You can hear the critics in the background wondering why Jesus could cure a blind man, but just let his friend die. You can imagine the smell as the stone gets moved away from the front of the tomb. I can see Jesus, stretching out his hands there in front of the open tomb, and looking upward. I imagine him saying in a normal voice “Thank you, Father, for having heard me….” So that the crowd needs to be quiet and strain to hear his prayer. I can imagine that it’s now completely quiet when Jesus calls out loud: “Lazarus, come out!” I can imagine the gasps when the wrapped-up body of his friend emerges from the doorway. And then the rush as Jesus commands them, “Unbind him, and let him go.”
Who are the saints in these stories? Who is it that does the work of a saint? Is it just those who have left this life after faithful service, or who have lived some sort of exemplary life? No. We are the saints. Us. We have been adopted into God’s family in our baptism, and assured that our home is with God forever. We have been called to be God’s people as we grow up, to learn how God’s people act, how God’s law keeps us on track of how to behave in the world. We have been given God’s eyes, so we see hunger and deprivation, violence and abuse, war and tyranny as evils that we are called to change because we are God’s hands and heart.
Our sainthood is a gift from God, it is not something we earn or deserve. Jesus won it for us at great cost. Now we are called into God’s kingdom, into God’s love. We fail to live our sainthood all the time, but it is still ours. And God’s love washes away our failures, forgiving us as often as we fail, and inviting us back into that future of heavenly joy that is ours now and forever. Notice that Jesus asked his friends to unbind Lazarus, setting him free from the cloth that keeps him wrapped in the stench of death. God has work for us, God’s saints. Sainthood is conferred on us so that we have the authority to continue to do the work of Jesus in the world, feeding, healing, unbinding and setting free. Imagine that God is reaching out for you from that promised future calling you to life, and the work of giving life to all around you. That’s what sainthood is all about.
May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen.