ALL SAINTS – November 4, 2012 (Actually 11/1/12)

(ALL SAINTS RITE, November 6, 2011, November 1, 2010, November 1, 2009)

Wisdom of Solomon 3:1-9 – The souls of the righteous are in the hand of God
or Isaiah 25:6-9 – On this moutain God will swallow up death. No more tears.

Psalm 24 – The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it. They shall receive a blessing from the God of their salvation. (Ps. 24:5)

Revelation 21:1-6a – Holy city coming down. No more tears.

John 11:32-44 – The raising of Lazarus

All Saints Sunday falls every year on the first Sunday of November. For a sample rite that you might use to remember those dearly departed, click here: ALL SAINTS RITE.

Last year I posted extensively on the fact that in some places Reformation Sunday and All Saints are celebrated simultaneously. It was probably no accident that Luther posted the 95 Theses on the eve of All Saints, given the situation with the cult of the saints. You can read more here: November 6, 2011.

The gospel reading for All Saints Sunday in Year A is the Matthean Beatitudes. The All Saints’ gospel reading for Year C is the Lukan Beatitudes. This year, Year B, sandwiched in the middle, we get the Raising of Lazarus.

Last week I said all church structures are penultimate. This week I want to say that Lazarus’ resurrection was also penultimate. In fact, all healing of any kind is penultimate. Here’s what I mean. Lazarus was raised from the dead, sure, but then he died again, right? I mean, unless he’s still roaming around somewhere, or unless he was taken up into heaven in a cloud, he had to die again. I’m not sure I relish the idea of dying twice.

I’ve been in pain every day for about four months, due to a bone surgery that is also penultimate. I hope. It’s a fusion that didn’t take, so we’re doing it again. This has been an interesting experience that has given me an appreciation for those who experience pain on a daily basis. This is tolerable pain, and one learns to ignore it, but it’s a distraction. It has made me aware though, that our bodies will break down at some point, beyond repair. Pain will come, and then not go away. And the day may come, if we do not die in an accident, that we will welcome death and a kind deliverer.

As Saint Francis so eloquently penned:

Duccio, 1310

And you, most kind and gentle death
Waiting to hush our final breath
Oh, praise Him! Alleluia!

You lead to heav’n the child of God

Where Christ our Lord the way has trod.
Oh, praise Him! Oh, praise Him!
Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!

So, this month as I’m reading the story of the raising of Lazarus, marveling at John’s use of story to point to things beyond the surface, I got to thinking that perhaps Lazarus wasn’t all that overjoyed at being raised. Perhaps he said, "Oh, no. Not again."

I love this painting of the Raising of Lazarus, by Duccio, ca. 1310. I like Jesus’ halo. I like the postures of Mary and Martha. I like guy in the gold shawl, blue chemise, red tights and black socks holding his nose at the stench. Art makes me laugh. But Lazarus, he looks to be in shock, and a bit peaked. Who wouldn’t? It’s not every day you wake up in a grave, wrapped in a straight-jacket like a mummy. Duccio has erred though. It is almost comic to consider Jesus saying, "Lazarus! Come out!" and Lazarus actually trying to do so in that get up.

6th century mosaic, Ravenna, Italy

This sixth century mosaic from Ravenna, Italy may be the oldest artwork we have depicting Lazarus. He is also incapacitated in this piece.

I searched through every piece of artwork I could find on the Raising of Lazarus. In none of them was he happy, except maybe in this one by Juan de Flandes, a contemporary of Luther from Belgium. He still doesn’t look happy, but

Juan de Flandes, ca 1510

perhaps okay at least with being back in the world. You’ve got to like the waving hand. He’s either saying, "Hi," or "Oh, wow, that was the weirdest experience of my life."

So if Lazarus is going to die again anyway, why bother bringing him back now? This story is foreshadowing. Jesus’ raising of Lazarus and Jairus’ daughter are a taste of what is to come. It is a shadowed hint of the surprise Jesus says we have in store. It reflects the promises of Jesus and the hope that we hold deep in our hearts. It is the intuitive sense of humanity that there is more to this life than meets the eye. It is the glimmer of hope we see, as through a mirror dimly. This story is an archetype. It embodies that gut feeling we just can’t shake for some reason, that we will one day be reunited with those whom we love.

I don’t actually think that Lazarus was unhappy. In fact, Lazarus may have been so indebted to Jesus that he became the beloved disciple. The third verse in our gospel reading (John 11:3) says, "So the sisters sent a message to Jesus, ‘Lord, he whom you love is ill.’" This seems to indicate that Lazarus is "the disciple whom Jesus loved."

If so, that means Lazarus was the "disciple whom Jesus loved" that had his head at Jesus’ breast during the Last Supper. It means he was the in the boat at daybreak after a night of catching nothing: "That disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, ‘It is the Lord!’ When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on some clothes, for he was naked, and jumped into the lake." And it could mean that Lazarus loved Jesus so much, he wrote the fourth gospel:

Peter turned and saw following them the disciple whom Jesus loved, who had lain close to his breast at the supper and had said, "Lord, who is it that is going to betray you?" When Peter saw him, he said to Jesus, "Lord, what about his man?" Jesus said to him, "If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? Follow me!" The saying spread abroad among the brethren that this disciple was not to die; yet Jesus did not say to him that he was not to die, but, "If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you?" This is the disciple who is bearing witness to these things, and who has written these things; and we know that his testimony is true.

I know it’s a stretch, but keep in mind, the author of the fourth gospel never identifies himself, except as "the disciple whom Jesus loved," and according to John 11:3, that’s Lazarus. But think about it. If someone raised you to from the dead, would that form some kind of indelible bond?

Whatever you make of Lazarus, it is a good story for All Saints. In this story Jesus weeps. We weep too. In this story Jesus has hope. We have hope too. I like All Saints. "I am the resurrection and the life." It’s like a little bit of Easter in the middle of Fall. We can rejoice, for though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed daily. And one day, perhaps like Lazarus, we can rejoice for what is to come.

Yours in Christ,

Mike Rinehart, bishop