Summary: Sermon for All Saints Sunday, Yr B, based on John 11:32-44.
Sermon for All Saints Sunday Yr B 2/11/2003
Based on Jn 11:32-44
By Pastor Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson
William Willimon tells of his friend Stuart Henry who accompanied a father and his little son on their first visit to Duke Chapel. They walked up and down the aisles, heads upturned, amazed at the stained glass windows. The father asked his son, “Do you know who the saints are?”
“Sure,” said the son, “the saints are the people where the sun shines through.”
That’s not a bad definition of a saint. A saint is someone for whom the sun shines through. Those through whom the Son shines. 1
Today is All Saints Sunday. A day in which we remind ourselves that there is a bond between Christians who are living and those who have died. In our gospel today, we see this interconnectedness between the living and the dead. We see, as did the little boy in Duke Chapel, Jesus the Son shining through Lazarus by giving him life after he had been lying dead in the grave for four days. However, before we reach that point in the story, we need to take a closer look at what happens before Jesus restores Lazarus back to life again.
Today’s gospel picks up the story in verse 32, where Lazarus’ sister, Mary meets up with Jesus, and full of grief and sorrow, kneels at his feet, saying the following words: “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” Are these words not filled with sadness and regret as well as faith? On the one hand, Mary is missing her brother Lazarus terribly. So in sorrow and regret she says, “IF you had been here…” Is this too not how we respond to the death of our loved ones? There is a sadness of the loss of our loved one, a feeling of void and emptiness without them. A recognition that life is never going to be the same without them. There is often also a feeling of regret mainly due to guilt associated with something we may have done or may have failed to do. IF ONLY I had not gotten into that tirade which upset my loved one and may have brought on his/her heart attack. IF ONLY I had taken that day off to pay a visit and say my final good-bye. IF ONLY I had made more of an effort to reconcile my differences with my father/mother. IF ONLY we had taken the time to plan more for the future and had made a will. Mary’s words of regret here teach us all that we need to live life by making each day count; so that we do not have to be condemned and weighed down by the IF ONLYS of life. Life in communion with Jesus frees us from the oppressive IF ONLYS. On the other hand, Mary’s words are also a remarkable confession of faith and confidence in Jesus. “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” Here Mary trusts and believes in Jesus, that he actually could have prevented the death of Lazarus had he been around at the time. Here is a trust, a confidence, and a faith that shines through like the beautiful multicoloured light of stained glass windows. An incredible faith in Jesus as the giver and restorer of life. Can we too not learn from Mary’s words of a confident faith in Jesus? Can we, like Mary turn to Jesus in our times of deepest sorrow and grief and seek his grace so that we too might be restored and given a newness of life, a newfound meaning and purpose for life?
It is most interesting how John describes Jesus’ response to Mary’s words. In verse 33, he says: “When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved.” The New Testament Greek of this verse is rather difficult to translate, since the word for deeply moved can refer to anger, reproach, and sternness. However, in light of the larger context of Jesus’ close friendship with Mary, Martha and Lazarus, surely he is not expressing his anger here. Rather, it makes more sense to that John’s description of Jesus’ response is one of deeply felt emotion, expressing his compassion and empathy towards his friends. Here the following translation of Dr William Barclay is helpful in underscoring Christ’s emotion: “When Jesus saw her weeping, and when he saw the Jews who had come with her weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit so that an involuntary groan burst from him, and he trembled with deep emotion.” 2 Here it seems to me that John picks up on something very profound that is essential to our understanding of Jesus. In describing Jesus’ response like this, John is communicating the humanity of Jesus. Jesus was a human being like us; therefore he shares everything human with us—including our sorrow and grief. Unlike the ancient Greeks who viewed divinity as apathetic, and incapable of any emotion; the real, true God can be filled with emotion and share with us in comforting ways, our sufferings and sorrows.